I nagged at Piet’s sooty head just as long until I was allowed to go in the sack to Spain. I’m lying, because I’ve been here for two weeks, which means I’ve skipped the whole Sinterklaas event, although I did see the best man stride through the streets of Barcelona in full uniform last Saturday as he was waved lavishly and – sung by a bunch of Dutch and Dutch-Spanish kids.

Since most Spaniards have never heard of Sinterklaas, let alone respect the anniversary of his death, Christmas here starts early. From the windows of the many Chinese furniture shops in the Catalan coastal town where I stay, the artificial Christmas trees with seven colors of LED lighting crackle at you at the end of November. There is a huge Christmas tree in the village square to which the youngest residents were allowed to confirm their wish lists. So now there are about a hundred cards with ‘Iphone’ and one with ‘I wish all children get the presents they want and that it will snow’.

In the meantime, the range in the supermarket even richer than in the rest of the year. Anyone who ever goes on holiday in Spain knows what a joy it is to get your groceries together here. If only because of the beautiful display of fresh fish and seafood; silver-scaled sea bass, thick cream-white hake fillets, shells in all sizes and shades, barnacles, common mussels, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and squid in arrow, sepia and octopus versions. For most of these delicacies you pay less than half of what they cost in the Netherlands, only in the week before Christmas the prices suddenly skyrocket, because all Spaniards eat marisco then. Octopus is never cheap here, which is a good thing, because according to the World Wildlife Fund, this species is overfished worldwide. So put it on the table sparingly, and if you buy it (see the WWF website for a ‘green’ choice) prepare it as tasty as possible.

By stewing it very slowly in its own liquid, for example, octopus becomes wonderfully tender and has an intense taste. Prepared like this, it wouldn’t look out of place as an appetizer during a Christmas dinner. The following is not a traditional Spanish recipe, although it could have been given the ingredients. If you do not have a fireproof earthenware bowl with a lid, you can use a casserole.

Octopus, slowly stewed in its own liquid

Starter for 6 to 8 people:

2 frozen octopuses of about 750 g, thawed; 1 onion, peeled and quartered; 8 peppercorns; your best olive oil; a handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat the oven at 125 degrees. Place the octopuses in a fireproof earthenware baking dish. Place the onion, bay leaf and peppercorns in between and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Close with a lid and put in the oven for 2 – 2.5 hours, until the octopus is butter tender.

Leg Place it on a cutting board and place the bowl with the remaining stew on the stove over high heat. Reduce the liquid until it has the consistency of thin syrup.

Delete the octopus’s mouth – it sits right in the middle between the tentacles. Cut the head and tentacles into nice, bite-sized pieces. Divide among deep, preheated plates.

Sprenkel Add some of the reduced stew liquid and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.