Years ago, Mama found a recipe for Cioppino that she thought sounded good. For the most part, when I describe this dish to friends as an Italian peasant fisherman's stew, they turn up their noses. Most of them get the thought of a fishy spaghetti in their heads. I know I did when it was first described to me. Wrong!!
This dish actually doesn't do well in descriptions, but one taste made a believer of me. This is my absolute favorite meal, bar none. The recipe is listed below with the variety of fish most folks use and that the original recipe listed. Definitely see the notes below for what makes this dish one that rates spectacular for our family.
When I'm in San Diego, Mama makes this special for me. The whole family comes to her house. We all put on bibs that are actually apron sized. Pour wine, dish up the Cioppino, break pieces of fresh, crusty bread. Lots of laughter, lots of family stories, lots of feeling like being in a Hollywood movie where they show the family around the table. Enjoy!
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 medium carrots, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 can (28 oz) solid pack tomatoes OR 4 large, fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups water or clam juice or combination
1 cup dry sherry
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp each basil, marjoram, oregano and thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb. firm, white fish, cut into bite sized pieces (flounder, turbot, halibut)
1 lb. raw prawns or shrimp, in shell
2 lbs. clams or mussels in shell, well scrubbed
1-2 Dungeness, or 4-6 blue crabs, cooked, cleaned and cracked
Heat oil in large kettle or Dutch oven. Add vegetables. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except fish and shellfish. Simmer gently 1 1/2 hours. The broth will have the best flavor if it is prepared one day in advance. 20 minutes before serving, add fish and shellfish to simmering broth. Cover and cook 20 minutes. Discard any clams or mussels that have not opened. To serve, ladel some of each kind of fish into soup bowls. Top with broth. Make it easy on your guests and serve extra bowls to discard shells in.
From the original recipe notes: This popular West Coast dish of crab, shrim, clams and fish is ideal for informal entertaining. Provide each guest with a large bib. Serve with lots of crusty French bread, a tossed salad and fresh fruit for dessert. You may vary the fish according to what your local market offers.
-The original recipe called for 1 1/2 tsp of each of the spices, but Mama found it was far too much.
-Double the recipe and still only use this much in spices. Then taste to see if it needs more of any of them.
-Get the freshest bread possible and plenty of it. You want to dip it in the "sugo" as the broth is called by my Italian sister-in-law.
-Make sure the lemon is almost paper thin in slicing.
-Have a bunch of wet washcloths on hand instead of regular napkins. You'll thank me for this one.
-As to the fish, if you like all of these - or whatever other fish you find you would like to try - by all means, use them. But for our family, the ONLY seafood used is king crab legs, well cracked. If you're going to use crab legs, make sure to use king crab legs. Mama buys it a little at a time, when she sees the king crab legs on a good sale. She freezes them and when she has enough, then it's time to make Cioppino. By using only king crab legs, this becomes quite an upscale dish and one that makes everyone feel special.
For more recipes and great cooking stuff, check out the Weekend Cooking posts at Beth Fish Reads
...may there be mercy in the breaking of bread at your table...