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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
 
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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.
 

 

 

Grilled Mussels and Clams

 I used to say that Spring was my favorite season, as tulips and daffodils herald a rebirth of beauty, and trees burst out in flowery excess. But every year when summer rolls around, I start to rethink that. Summer’s the time of year for Jersey’s best produce — luscious tomatoes, fragrant peaches and sweet corn; for lazy days at the shore; for catching up on the latest bestseller; and for grilling clams and mussels.  I know clams and mussels are available all year long, and I can even use my gas grill during the winter (provided I don’t mind braving the cold out there on the deck).

 But when the weather’s hot and you have a hankering for clams and mussels, and don’t want to heat up the kitchen, there’s no easier way to satisfy that craving than to fire up the grill. Save yourself the cleanup too, by using a disposal aluminum pan (ok, I always wash it out and reuse it to be environmentally friendly, but if you toss yours, I won’t send the recycling police to your place.) Just pour a little olive oil and dry white wine around the shellfish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, chopped parsley, a LOT of garlic and a few red hot chili peppers.
Close the lid to the grill and wait for about 15-20 minutes. The shells will all start to pop open and you can sit down to eat right after that. Don’t overcook or they’ll get rubbery.
 You can cook up some pasta to go along with it if you like. But I like eating the shellfish with grilled or toasted bread, smeared with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, just like I had recently overlooking the Ionian Sea in Gallipoli, Italy. It’s usually called mussels and clams sauté on menus there. If you can find those tiny cockle-like clams in the U.S., good for you. Otherwise, I use littleneck clams, the smallest available most of the time where I live.
Whenever I’m in Rome, I always order mussels and clams sauté as my first course in my favorite restaurant there – Le Mani in Pasta. They throw in a few shrimp and squid pieces too.
Grill the bread pieces before you cook the shellfish, and you can smear them with a little raw garlic and olive oil while you’re waiting for the shells to open. Serve on a large, deep platter, accompanied by some more dry white wine – preferably the same wine you used to cook the shellfish.
In this case, I used a California chardonnay called “Clambake,” sent to me by its producers, Ripe Life Wines. The company was founded by a Jersey Shore native, Mary McAuley, who’s a culinary school graduate and sommelier. So she knows a thing or two about pairing wines with foods. This one, with its great balance of floral and citrus notes, was perfect with the mussels and clams. If you’re having a full-on clambake (click here for a great Jersey Shore clambake recipe), you’ll want to serve this wine if it’s available near you. You can buy it at stores in New York, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Click here for a list of stores.
Oh, I almost forgot – You can now follow what Ciao Chow Linda is up to on Instagram. Lots more food and other photos there. So swing on over to here and take a look.

Grilled Mussels and Clams
1 bag of clams (about three dozen – preferably littleneck clams)
1 bag of mussels (about three to four dozen)
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
at least six to eight large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 or 3 small, hot, dried chili peppers (peperoncini)
salt, pepper
1 loaf of good French or Italian bread, sliced and grilled
more garlic pieces and olive oil to smear on the bread
Preheat your grill and toast the bread. While the shellfish is cooking, smear a little raw garlic and olive oil on the slices.
Clean the shellfish by washing them in cold water thoroughly to try to remove any traces of sand. Throw out any shells that are already open. Place the mussels and clams in a large aluminum container that fits your grill. Then pour in the wine and olive oil. Add the garlic, parsley, chili peppers, salt and pepper. Place on the grill and close the lid. Toss it all together. Wait about 15 minutes and check. It may take another five minutes or so for most of the shells to open. There will be some stragglers, but remove the ones that are open and leave the others to pop open while you’re eating. Place the shellfish in a large, deep bowl with the juices from the pan, and surround it with the grilled bread.