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Cioppino

In a recent episode of Stanley Tucci’s “Searching For Italy,” when he was on the Tuscan coast that borders Liguria, he ate a seafood stew called cacciucco, prepared by chef Fabbio Picchi, who owns the restaurant Cibreo in Florence. Picchi followed the cacciucco with a pasta dish tossed in the leftover sauce after the seafood had been polished off. Here I am, chatting with Picchi on a trip to Florence when travel to Italy was relatively easy.

The dishes he prepared and that show in general, had me dreaming about going back to Italy. Since that’s not possible in this pandemic, I had to do the next best thing — cook something like it at home that might transport me for a little while to la bell’Italia. Having just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean where I ate seafood every day, I felt driven to keep up the seafood vibe and decided to make cioppino – an Italian American seafood dish with origins in San Francisco that is similar to cacciucco. So many cultures have versions of seafood stews, and aside from cacciucco, Italy also lays claim to brodetto, a fish stew from the Abruzzo region,  that’s slightly less soupy and tomato-y than cacciucco or cioppino, and is cooked in a clay vessel. I helped prepare this brodetto several years ago while on a trabocco (small wooden fishing piers that jut into the Adriatic) along Abruzzo’s coastline. To read more about trabocchi, click here.

To make the cioppino, start by softening the vegetables in olive oil — onion, garlic, celery, carrots, green pepper and some fennel.

Next add the tomatoes, white wine and seasonings. Be very generous with the basil and parsley. You can make this in a Dutch oven, or in a more shallow pan, like this one. This recipe includes seafood amounts for two very generous servings, but intentionally makes enough sauce for a whole lot more. After we scarfed down all the seafood the night I made this, there was still plenty of leftover sauce to serve over pasta the next day.

After the sauce has simmered for about aan hour, add the shellfish and the rest of the seafood. You don’t have to use the same amounts or types of seafood I did. It’s a very fluid recipe and you can substitute whatever you like and eliminate whatever seafood I’ve included that you don’t like. I used cod but haddock or halibut would be great too. The cost of all this seafood can get a little pricey, but it’s a delicious splurge and would be perfect for a Lenten Friday (or Christmas Eve).  Put the shellfish in after you’ve put the rest of the seafood in, to try to keep them from getting submerged too much and hinder their opening. Place the lid on the pot and keep it at a simmer for 15 minutes, without checking or removing the lid.

After 15 minutes, check to see if the fish is cooked through. If not, put the lid back on for a few more minutes until everything is cooked properly. Some of the clams and mussels might still be closed, so put those aside in a separate pan and place it over a low heat by itself, while you portion out the cioppino, either in the pan where you cooked it, or in a tureen, gently lifting the seafood. The cod will easily fall apart unless you use a large spoon to scoop it up whole.

Serve in bowls with crusty toasted bread, smeared with olive oil and salt, or over polenta.

I made some homemade pasta to toss with the leftover sauce. It was perfect for the next evening’s meal. If I can’t have Italy right now, at least I can have pasta and cioppino!

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Cioppino
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • The amounts for the seafood are for two very generous servings. If you add more seafood to serve more people, you don't need to increase the amount of sauce. This recipe provides enough sauce for at least three or four more servings. In fact, after we had eaten all the seafood from the Cioppino one night, my husband and I used the leftover sauce the next day and served it over homemade pasta, and there was still plenty of sauce left in the pan that I didn't use.
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ¼ cup green onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup celery, minced
  • ½ of a large fennel bulb, sliced roughly
  • ½ medium carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 26.46 oz. box of finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 26.46 oz. box of strained tomatoes
  • (or use all strained tomatoes, or all finely chopped tomatoes if you prefer)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup water (use it to swish out any remaining bits of tomato from the tomato box, jar or cans you use).
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
  • ½ pound halibut, cod or similar fleshy white fish
  • ½ pound fresh shrimp
  • ½ pound fresh scallops
  • 6 squid bodies, cut into "rings"
  • a dozen mussels
  • a dozen and a half clams
Instructions
  1. Sauté onion, green pepper, celery, carrot, fennel and garlic in olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pan until limp.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, bay leaf, parsley, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
  3. Heat to boiling and add the white wine.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Simmer one hour, then discard the bay leaf.
  6. Cut the cod, or whatever white fish you're using, into two large pieces.
  7. Scrub the clams and mussels thoroughly, removing any "beard" from the mussels.
  8. Cut the squid into rings, and shell and devein the shrimp.
  9. Add the clams and the mussels to the pan, then add the rest of the seafood to the tomato sauce -- the squid, the shrimp, the scallops and the cod.
  10. Put the lid on and let everything cook together at a simmer for 15 minutes, WITHOUT STIRRING and WITHOUT LIFTING THE LID.
  11. If you stir, you will break up the codfish, which flakes apart easily when cooked.
  12. Check it after 15 minutes and if the fish is all cooked, serve the cioppino in the pan you cooked it, or remove it gently to a serving tureen.
  13. If some of the shellfish haven't opened, let them continue cooking in a separate pot, which should take only a few more minutes.
  14. Sprinkle with parsley and serve in bowls with plenty of toasted crusty bread smeared with olive oil and salt, or over polenta.
 

 

 

Codfish and Corn

It’s only in summer when this perfect combination comes together in my part of the world. Fresh, sweet New Jersey corn and codfish caught off our coast are meant to snuggle next to each other when the warm weather finally arrives. You can cook everything in one pot and have it ready to eat in a half hour. I started with this piece of codfish, a little more than 1 pound. If you have a piece this long, cut it in two or three pieces, otherwise it will flake apart after it cooks, when you try to lift it from the pan in one large section.

Start by seasoning the pieces with salt and pepper, then give them a light dusting with flour. Place some olive oil and butter in a saucepan, place the fish into the pan and sear at high heat, but only on one side. You’ll finish the cooking after you’ve put the rest of the ingredients in the pan.

Remove the seared pieces and flip over onto a platter. As you can see, they’re still partly raw inside.

Scrape the corn from the cobs. I used two ears of corn, but they were so sweet, we were wishing we had one or two more to join the party. Next time.

Place more butter into the pan and add the red pepper and shallots to the pan, stirring for a minute or two. Add the corn and seasonings, stirring for another minute, then push the corn to the side and make room for the fish, adding the pieces of cod in the center of the pan. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer on a low heat for another 5 -8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Sprinkle it with more minced parsley and serve.

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Codfish and Corn
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb - 1¼ lb. codfish
  • salt, pepper to season
  • flour to lightly dust the fish
  • 2 or 3 ears of fresh corn
  • ½ cup diced red pepper
  • ¼ shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 more tablespoons butter
  • minced parsley
Instructions
  1. Remove the corn from the cobs and set aside.
  2. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then lightly dust with flour.
  3. Place the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet and bring to high heat.
  4. Gently place the fish pieces into the pan and sear until browned on one side.
  5. Remove the fish from the pan, reserving them on a platter with the seared side facing up.
  6. Add the red pepper and shallot to the pan and cook for one minute.
  7. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan, along with the corn, the salt and pepper and minced parsley.
  8. Stir for one minute, then push the vegetables to the edges of the pan.
  9. Add the remaining butter to the center space of the pan, then place the fish in the center, with the seared side up.
  10. Turn the heat to low-medium and place a lid on top.
  11. Continue cooking for five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
 

Codfish with Chickpeas

The Lenten season is here and that means no meat on Fridays for many of us. Even if you don’t observe Lent, this dish is one of my favorites for so many reasons.
First of all, it’s delicious. Second of all, it’s easy to make and third of all, it’s low in calories.
What more could you want, except maybe someone to shop for you and cook for you?
One of the things that takes this over the top in flavor are the tomatoes I used in the recipe.
They’re small grape tomatoes that come in a jar and I bought them at a local gourmet store. Use canned or jarred cherry tomatoes if you can’t find these grape tomatoes, or just plain old canned diced tomatoes from the supermarket. But if you can find these specialty jarred grape tomatoes, or a similar brand, they’re worth the extra cost.
They’re so sweet I could have eaten them from the pan just with the chickpeas and seasonings added. A nice swipe of bread is all I needed. Actually, dropping a few eggs into this would make a wonderful lunch or dinner too, even without the fish.
But back to the cod. After you’ve cooked the sauce, add the chunks of codfish and put the lid on the pan.
Cook the fish for five minutes with the lid on, and you’re done. Sprinkle with more basil and parsley and serve.
This dish comes together start to finish in less than a half hour. It would make a great do-ahead dish for company too if you cook the sauce and chickpeas ahead of time, then add the fish just before you’re ready to eat.
Wouldn’t you like to dig into this?
This next photo has nothing at all to do with the codfish recipe, but it’s a teaser to let you know we still have a couple of spots available for our writing retreat in Varenna, on Lake Como, Italy this coming September.
Spend your mornings with an experienced writing teacher, workshopping that family, travel or food memoir you always meant to start.
Afternoons are free to do as you please, or you could join me on a few excursions around the lake.
And take a look at this dreamy view from your accommodations at Villa Monastero.
 It could be yours each morning if you sign up for “Italy, In Other Words.”
Click here for more details.
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Codfish with Chickpeas
for two people
1 lb. codfish, cut into large pieces
1/4 cup minced onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 T. olive oil
1 12.4 oz. container cherry or grape tomatoes (datterini)
1/3 cup white wine
15 oz. can chickpeas
salt, pepper
1/4 tsp. dried basil
freshly minced basil
freshly minced parsley
Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until wilted. Add the tomatoes and smash them flat with a fork or wooden spoon. Sauté briefly then add the white wine and stir. Next add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, basil and parsley, keeping some of the fresh herbs aside to use at the end. Put the lid on and simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.
Add the codfish, season with salt and pepper, then put the lid on again, for about five minutes or until just cooked through. DON’T overcook or it will break up into small pieces.