There are some people who don’t like their food to touch. They make special divided plates just for these folks that are designed to keep their meat from touching their corn from touching their green beans from touching their potatoes. I discovered this week that they even make divided Tupperware to transport leftovers to work without fear of illicit meat-veggie mingling.
I do not understand this mentality.
Though I love the deep richness of beef, the delicate sweetness of carrots, and the earthy flavor of potatoes, I much prefer them all at the same time – a party on my palette! I like my food to be all up in each other’s business–flavors, textures, and aromas all tangled up in one another and daring me to try to pick out where one starts and another ends. Much to my husbands dismay, besides Thanksgiving dinner, I flatly refuse to serve meals that consist of distinct piles of unrelated food on a plate.
As you can imagine, I am a total stew fiend. Stews, soups, and braises are the ultimate everything-is-touching-everything food. Most of the time, my cooking mantra goes something like this: if you can cook it for hours in a Dutch oven and serve it over a warm mound starch like polenta or risotto, I want to eat it. With this as a major guiding principal of my cuisine, entertaining in fall and winter is a breeze. But in the spring and summer, when people don’t want to tuck into a deep bowl of hot, stewy goodness, I struggle a bit with menu planning.
This past week, we had a friend over for dinner. Temperatures in Atlanta were just beginning to peak in the high seventies, and the hearty lamb stew I had a hankering for wasn’t going to cut it. So, Anthony suggested Cioppino, an Italian-American seafood classic. It’s perfect for spring – lighter and brighter than your average stew and full of flavor that doesn’t weigh you down. It came together relatively quickly and was a delight to eat.
Give it a shot, especially if you live in a spot where the temps are still a little nippy!
Serves 6 to 8.
If you have time to make your own fish stock, this soup is out of this world. We call ahead and get our fishmonger to save fish heads and bones for us. If you’re short on time, punch up store-bought chicken or fish stock by adding the discarded shrimp shells, garlic and onion ends and skins, and fennel fronds from this recipe to your stock along with a little carrot, celery, and a bay leaf or two. Boil it for 15 to 20 minutes, strain through a colander or sieve, and you’ll have delicious, full-flavored stock in no time.
For the Cioppino:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ to 1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, to taste
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon pimentón
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, preferable fire roasted
6 cups of stock (chicken or fish stock both work, see headnote)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and shells reserved for stock
1 lb. white fish, such as grouper, red snapper, or mahi mahi, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 dozen clams, scrubbed
2 dozen mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
For the Garlic Croutons:
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup olive oil
2 packed cups 3/4″ bread cubes, cut from a good-quality baguette or Italian loaf
Make the cioppino: In a Dutch oven or large soup kettle set over medium heat, heat olive oil, then add fennel, onion, carrot, and celery, season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper, and sauté until soft. Add garlic, pepper flakes, thyme, and pimentón and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to darken, 3 to 5 minutes. Add wine and bay leaves and cook until wine reduces by about half. Add fish stock and canned tomatoes, season again with Kosher salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain to a simmer, then cover the pot and simmer to bring flavors together, 20 to 30 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, make the garlic croutons: Heat a 10-inch skillet over low heat. With motor running, drop garlic cloves through feeder tube of a food processor fitted with the steel blade to mince. (A blender works as well.) Scrape down sides of bowl and add olive oil through feeder tube as well. Continue to process so that garlic releases its flavor into the oil about 30 seconds. Strain garlic from oil through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the garlic or reserve for another use. You should have about 3 tablespoons of oil. Increase skillet to medium. Place bread cubes in medium bowl. Drizzle the garlic oil evenly over bread, along with big pinch of salt; toss to coat. Add bread cubes to hot skillet and toast, turning the cubes and shaking the pan often, until crisp and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Return croutons to bowl and set aside to cool.
Finish and serve the cioppono: Add mussels and clams to the soup, cover the pot, and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add shrimp and fish, and re-cover the pot. Let rest until the shrimp and fish are cooked through, another 4 to 5 minutes. Discard any unopened shellfish, ladle into bowls, and garnish with garlic croutons and chopped parsley.