I learned that cioppino got its name as a communal meal made from the catches of fishermen on the North Beach of San Francisco who chipped in to make stews together. And Kevin remarked over a bowlful recently that it feels like elegant peasant food. The phrase conjures images of idyllic meals by the ocean in the salty air. Feed me like that any day.
The recipe we’ve been developing takes the two of us forty-five minutes to prepare without hurrying and is easy to shop for, too, since it features salmon and mussels. Substitute halibut, lobster, anything you want on a day when you have the time to run around and find it. Meanwhile, try this recipe as a winter feast for four people. Serve it in creamy-white bowls for dramatic effect, with crisp sourdough toast and a very simple, very fresh salad.
Any Day Cioppino:
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, with bulb rinsed well and cut lengthwise into wedges
1 onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, optional
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes in juice
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup good dry red wine
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
1-1/4 pound salmon, skinned and cut into 1-inch chunks
1-1/4 pound cultivated mussels
Pulse the fennel, onion and garlic in a food processor until coursely chopped, or chop them by hand, then saute them in the olive oil with the thyme, bay leaves and red-pepper flakes (skip them if you don’t want the heat) for a few minutes until transparent and fragrant. Add a teaspoon or so of salt while sauteing them to help release their lovely juices. Then add the crushed tomatoes in juice, water, wine, clam juice, a few grinds of fresh black pepper, and bring it all to a boil, then simmer it covered for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile make toast and salad and set the table, then stir in the salmon and mussels and cook gently for five minutes or so. Discard the bay leaves and any mussels that don’t open, serve, and feast. The broth is wonderful, with “all day” flavor, so any leftovers are a bonus that we have the next night over fresh angel hair. Delicioso. Enjoy!