Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cioppino - Fisherman's Wharf-Style "Stone Soup"

Have you ever heard the story of Stone Soup? A traveler arrives in a town and announces to the peasants that he can make the most delicious soup from a stone. He gets a pot, fills it with water, and drops in the stone. After the pot begins to simmer, the traveler tastes it and says it's delicious but it could use a little onion. One of the peasants gives him an onion. The soup continues to cook and the traveler tastes it again and claims it's wonderful but if he had a few carrots it would taste even better. This tasting and chipping in goes on until, low and behold, he's actually created a wonderful pot of soup from a stone - and a community.

This story reminds me of the origin of cioppino. Cioppino was created at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It got its name because the fishermen would pitch in something for a communal stew when they returned with their daily catch. They'd chip in. Many were Italian immigrants. Walking along the dock, the cry would sound like chip-ino or chi-peen-o - and that, boys and girls is how Cioppino came to be.

If you've never had cioppino, it's a savory, sometimes spicy, fish and shellfish stew. It's usually served without removing the shells, so you'll be using your fingers a minute or two after you start eating. You can make it with almost any combination of fish and shellfish. As a matter of fact there are shellfish-only versions too. It's a quick, low calorie and super-flavorful. You can pair it with some garlic bread if you are so inclined.

Here's my version:


Serves 2

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup slivered onion
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel
Pinch dried basil
1 bay leaf
1 small garlic clove, minced
12 mussels (see Chef's tip)
4 oz medium tail-on shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 oz cod or other mild white fish
1 cup canned San Marzanno Tomatoes, chopped
2 cups fish stock (or chicken stock in a pinch)
1 tsp fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp sea salt or more to taste
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp dry sherry
Lemon wedges for garnish (optional)

In a medium-size saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, dried basil, and bay leaf, and cook slowly until the onion and fennel are translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so longer.

Add the mussels to the vegetables, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the shrimp, cod, tomatoes, stock, parsley, salt, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Bring the stew to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and the cod flakes easily.

Just before serving, add the sherry and check to see if you'd like to add additional salt. Ladle into bowls, garnish with lemon wedges, and serve with garlic bread.

Note: Feel free to play with the fish and shellfish in this recipe. You can add clams, oysters, crab - whatever you like! Here in Seattle, they even include salmon.

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