The English weather is never extreme, but as a bank of fresh late winter rain rolls in over London, I’m grateful for my warm, cozy kitchen. Cioppino is a dish that trails gratefulness behind it in a long wake – a light in the late winter fog – a dish that holds the profundity of the cold ocean and the promise of bright summer together in embrace. Quintessentially American, this dish is a marriage of Ligurian immigrant cuisine and the early twentieth century bounty of the San Francisco Pacific. It transposes well to any winter kitchen anywhere, though. We had it tonight with a 2009 Cote du Py Morgon, torn chunks of pain de campagne and a simple mesclun salad in a state of near undress coated with walnut oil and and spiked with Maldon salt. Ecstasy.
This recipe serves 6 if restrained, or 3 if given free access to the pot.
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried hot pepper flakes (I know, they’re dried spices, but they are only there for the basso profundo)
1 small tin anchovies in oil
1/4 C olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 glasses dry, light red wine
2 400g cans chopped tomatoes (a good brand)
Fill both cans with water and add
500g crab legs
1 kilo mussels
500g firm fish (halibut, tuna, tilapia, whatever)
500g large prawns
1 dozen scallops
1 small bunch parsley, chopped
1 small bunch basil, chopped
Cook the garlic, onions, anchovies, bay, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes and pepper in the oil in a large pot over moderate heat until the onions are translucent. Stir in the bell pepper and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring again to a boil. Add tomatoes and water and simmer for half an hour.
Add crab, scallops, prawns, and fish and bring back to the boil. Then add the mussels and/or clams, parsley and basil and cook until shellfish have opened. Ladle gratefully into wide bowls and consume.
(NB: The sauce is so fragrant that this is a good place to hide fish that isn’t fresh. Not shellfish, though. Shellfish should always be unimpeachably fresh. Please play fast and loose with the seafood in this dish and simply use what is at hand. It should always take about 2-3 kilos of seafood, about a third of which is shellfish.)