By Lisa McRee for Oneforthetable.com
One of the iconic dishes of San Francisco is the seafood stew known as cioppino. The origin of the name is obscure. The dish evolved in the late 19th century when Italian and Portuguese fisherman ruled the bays of San Francisco and Monterey, Calif., and it's likely that the name comes from ciuppin, the Genoese word for fish stew.
Wherever the name came from, the basic recipe for cioppino is always the same: any combination of fresh fish and shellfish, such as calamari, cod, halibut, sardines, crabs, clams, mussels and shrimp, cooked in a flavorful broth made of fish heads, herbs, onions, tomatoes, fennel, and wine, sherry or vermouth.
In this version, all the flavorful vegetables, herbs, spices and vermouth are there. However, since (sadly) no one boils their own fish heads anymore, I've instead called for good quality seafood broth or chicken broth mixed with anchovy paste.
Though this recipe is already easy, it's really a snap -- and actually tastes better -- if you make the broth in the morning or even the night before you plan to serve it, stowing the whole pot in the fridge. When you're ready to finish it, marinate your fresh chunks of fish filets in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the cold broth for 20 minutes to 2 hours, bring the broth back to a hard simmer and drop in the fresh seafood.
As for the seafood, a mix of boneless white fish filets and shellfish works best. In the batch pictured, I used 2 pounds of cod filets, a half-pound of raw, peeled whole shrimp, and a half-pound of calamari (squid) cut into rings. At other times, I've used halibut, haddock and pollack. I stay away from swordfish because of mercury issues, and although I have used Pacific snapper, the pin bones can be tricky, so I usually avoid it in stews.
I've bumped up the usual ratio of vegetables to seafood, so the result is lower in calories than but just as satisfying as the original. That means you can afford to have a slender slice of toasted sourdough bread with it as well.
So if you're looking for a taste of the Bay Area without making a trip, pour a glass of red wine, put on a little Tony Bennett and try this!
SAN FRANCISCO CIOPPINO
Makes 8 servings, about 2 cups each.
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 large bell peppers (red, green or both), chopped
3-4 stalks of celery, including leaves
2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped or sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pound brown button mushrooms, sliced
A bundle of fresh thyme and parsley, tied with twine (see note)
1/2 cup extra dry vermouth (or white wine, if desired)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice (for a little more depth of flavor, try fire-roasted)
6 cups good quality seafood broth (or 6 cups chicken broth mixed with 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste)
1 (10-ounce) can of whole baby clams with juice
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup feathery fennel fronds, chopped (optional)
2-3 pounds fresh seafood (a mix of boneless white fish filets and shellfish works best)
Heat a large soup pot (enameled if you have it for easy cleaning) over medium high heat.
When the pot is hot, spray with cooking oil and add the onions, bell peppers, celery and fennel, and stir a couple of minutes until slightly softened.
Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, and stir until you begin to smell the garlic. Toss in the mushrooms and cook a few minutes more.
Add the bundle of herbs and vermouth, and stir 2 minutes.
Add the 2 cans of tomatoes and the broth, and stir again.
As soon as it starts to boil, turn heat down to very low and simmer for 20 minutes.
At that point, pull about a 1/4 cup of the broth from the pot and put it in a small bowl. Let it cool slightly and toss it with your chopped cod or halibut to marinate while you simmer the broth 20 minutes more.
Remove the bundle of herbs and drop in the chunks of white fish, pushing them down into the broth.
Add the shrimp a couple of minutes later; when they go pink, add the calamari, turning off the heat after just 2 minutes so it won't overcook.
Pour in the can of clams with its juice, and toss in the fresh basil, parsley and feathery fennel fronds, stirring so the clams warm and the herbs slightly wilt.
Serve with a couple of thin wedges of toasted sourdough and add more fresh herbs on top if you like.
Note: If you don't have fresh thyme, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dried thyme. But don't bother with dried parsley, it has no real flavor.
(Lisa McRee is a former network anchor who developed a way of cooking that has helped her keep extra weight off for good called The Skinny. One for the Table is Amy Ephron's online magazine that specializes in food, politics, and love. http://www.oneforthetable.com)