In Puglia, onions are the “death of the octopus”

Location: Apulia (Salento), Italy


There’s a great expression used in Italian gastronomy that describes how well two different ingredients go together. It’s “la morte sua”, which is “to die for” in English. However, I find it more fun if you translate it literally, word for word, because it sounds like one ingredient causes the death of the other.

For example, you could say: OMG, you have to try this bread, it’s amazing! Spread some nutella on top – it’s la morte sua (it’s the bread’s death)!

During our vacation in Salento last summer, I was lucky enough to try one the most well-known local specialties – Purpu alla Pignata. It’s a wonderful tasty stew made with boiled octopus, onions, and tomatoes. I absolutely love octopus in Italian cuisine, and it’s featured prominently in Salentine cooking due to it’s prevalence in local waters.

Coming home from the beach, I found this flyer taped to the door of our B&B. It basically explains the origins and traditional recipe of Purpu alla Pignata.



Apparently, there is a local saying that goes, “La morte de lu purpu e’ la pignata, la morte de lu purpu e’ la cipoddrha” – The pignata is the death of the octopus, the onions are the death of the octopus.

The word “pignata” in local dialect refers to the the terra cotta dish that the octopus is cooked in. To flavor the stew, a generous amount of onions is added, in addition to tomatoes, parsley, pepper and olive oil. It’s crucial that the octopus is cooked in its own juices, so only a little bit of water is added to the stew. The dish is then placed over a very low flame for slow cooking. Halfway through, the octopus is removed and chopped into smaller pieces before being put back in the stew. The octopus is ready to eat when it can be easily pierced with a fork.

We eventually had Purpu alla Pignata for lunch and were not disappointed! Served hot, with toasted bread on the side for dipping in the stew, the octopus was very tender, and the onions and tomatoes made the perfect combination of savory and sweet.



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  • Reply antonio

    Hi Rachel
    Articolo eccellente! Mi viene voglia di andare di nuovo in Puglia.

    July 27, 2016 at 5:40 pm
  • Reply Rachel Marie

    La Puglia e’ bellissima, mi sono trovata davvero bene e ho mangiato benissimo! Spero che tu riesca a tornarci presto 😉

    July 28, 2016 at 1:33 pm
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