Food & Drink

A Spicy Italian Spin on Stewed Okra

Not a fan of the summer produce star? Chef Mark Bolchoz’s take just might convert you

Photo: courtesy of indaco

The menu at Indaco in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is peppered with inventive takes on fresh seasonal produce, from peach-topped pizzas to house-made corn-and-chanterelle agnolotti. But executive chef Mark Bolchoz hasn’t exactly been a lifelong fan of every ingredient on the menu. 

“I didn’t like okra as a kid because it was just destroyed: It was so cooked, so mushy,” recalls Bolchoz, a Charleston native who ate plenty of the stuff as a kid, albeit begrudgingly. His attitude changed years later when he tried it prepped a little differently: roasted quickly at high heat. “You don’t get as much of the sliminess or the sogginess, and you get a more pure roasted okra flavor,” he says. The experience made him a believer—and prompted him to play around with the dish himself. “I guess you could say it’s reverse-nostalgia.”

At Indaco, Bolchoz serves an Italian-style take on classic Lowcountry stewed okra that pairs the pod with a spicy tomato sauce. It’s a one-two punch of summer produce—one you can try at home, too. Bolchoz says the keys are extra-high heat and to avoid overcrowding the pan while roasting. “Okra has such a high moisture content that you need the highest temperature that you can get out of a household oven,” says Bolchoz, who also recommends roasting it on a charcoal grill with a grill mat for an extra summery alternative. Whatever option you choose, watch carefully and remove the okra when it starts to char. “If you can get the roast right and the color right, then the rest will follow.” 


  • Roasted Okra and Arrabbiata (Serves 4 to 6)

    • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

    • 1 cup sliced garlic

    • 6 basil sprigs, divided

    • 1 tbsp. chili flake

    • ½ cup white wine

    • 1 28-oz. can DOP San Marzano tomatoes

    • 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

    • Salt and black pepper to taste

    • 1½ lb. okra

    • 1 red onion

    • Parmesan cheese, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven on broil and load a cast-iron or heavy sheet pan onto the top rack.

  2. To start the sauce, add ¼ cup oil, garlic, and half of the basil to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until a light brown color develops on the garlic. Add the chili flake and toast briefly before adding the white wine to deglaze the pan.

  3. Let the wine simmer down and reduce by about half, then add the tomatoes (you can purée the tomato ahead of time for a more refined and smooth sauce, or just crush the tomatoes directly into the pot for a more rustic style) and parsley along with a few of pinches of salt and pepper. 

  4. Turn the heat down to very low and let it settle while you work on the okra.

  5. Split all the okra in half longways and add to a mixing bowl. Julienne the red onion, but not paper-thin—it must be able to withstand a similar cook time as the okra.

  6. Chop the remaining basil and add it and the onion to the bowl of okra. Add the other ¼ cup olive oil to the bowl and season well with salt and pepper. 

  7. Carefully add the okra and onion mix to the preheated tray in the oven, taking care to spread it evenly in a single layer. The okra should take 6-8 minutes to cook: Look for some char and a little tenderness. 

  8. Once you remove the okra from the oven, taste the sauce for seasoning and spice levels and adjust as needed. To serve, ladle a few spoonfuls of sauce into a dish, add the okra, and finish with additional sauce over the top. Garnish with fresh-grated Parmesan or any hard cheese you prefer.