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Ring in the new year with Cioppino

January 2, 2010

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”  ~Oprah Winfrey

Cioppino is the most perfect thing to eat on New Year’s Day. Paul and I start making the broth in the morning, after we have rubbed the previous evening out of our eyes.  The fragrance fills the house as we clean up Christmas and last year’s successes and failures.  We hover around the broth from time to time, tasting it, adding a little something and nodding to each other in approval.

As the winter sun sets in the cold sky, friends and family appear on our warm hearth to share in the abundance. Laughter fills the house as the seafood gets added in the patient broth.  The candles are lit and the salad is tossed. Then at long last, bowls of this delicious delicacy are ladled out and the dinner to set off the new year commences to the sound of wine glasses clinking.

Cioppino, a fish soup, originated in San Francisco in the late 1800s by those food loving Italians.  It was born on fisherman’s boats where they would throw whatever they caught that day into a delicious broth made from tomatoes, herbs and whatever wine they had onboard. It is a perfect example of a dish born from ethnic culture and immigration mixed with local adaptation.

Consequently there are so many recipes and authorities on this soup that one could argue forever on the most authentic one. In fact, there are two very vocal factions on whether to use red or white wine! Cioppino is a great canvas to bloom your own culinary artistry. The one major suggestion that is most crucial is NOT to use old fish or shellfish. It will ruin it. Make sure and buy the freshest seafood possible for this divine celebration of our rich coastal waters.

Paul and I have been perfecting our version for a few years now and just love it. Remember this recipe is not exact, there is a lot of slurping and adding of this of that, to finish the painting. Taste it often and make adjustments as your palette sees fit. Don’t let the long ingredient list daunt you, cioppino is actually fairly easy to make. You may substitute any seafood on here for what ever is the best you can get. May your new year be filled with good food, health and love.


Serves 8 or more

2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil

4-6 large garlic cloves

2 onions chopped

1 or 2 bell peppers diced

4 celery stalks, sliced

1 large fennel bulb, sliced

2 carrots, diced

2 cups of white wine

1 quart of chicken broth

(or 1 cup of clam juice then 2 quarts of water)

1 quart of water

Pinch of saffron

¼ cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup of chopped fresh basil or

1 tablespoon of dried basil

2 teaspoons of dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon of black pepper

1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes

1 – 6 oz can of tomato paste

Salt to taste

2 pounds of clams, washed clean

1 pound of large shrimp peeled and deveined

2 pounds of a firm white fish, like halibut, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 pound of salmon cut into 2 inch pieces

2 Dungeness crabs, cleaned and broken into

quarters and legs cracked

2 lemons

It is important for the masterpiece to begin with good music and a wonderful large stock pot. First sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil over medium high heat till tender and fragrant. Add the bell peppers through the carrots and sauté a bit longer, like 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and revel at the wonderful poof of aroma. Add the chicken broth and water, (or the clam juice and water,) all the spices and the tomatoes and paste. Season with the salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for an hour or more., adjusting the spices and adding more water as you need.

Prepare the seafood and keep in the fridge. When you are ready to eat, add the clams to the simmering flavorful broth. Cover and cook till the clams open, about 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes. Add the fish, crab and shrimp to the stew and simmer covered again, for about 5 -10 minutes till the fish is barely cooked. Don’t overdo it here, the fish only needs a wee bit of time to cook and will continue to cook after the burner is turned off. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the soup and stir gently. Ladle into your best bowls, sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley, and serve immediately with warm bread, crisp salad, and lemon slices. Make sure and set out crab crackers, bowls to discard the shells into and lots of napkins! Boun appetito!

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