Holiday Cioppino

My perfect beach town isn’t a fancy resort or glitzy planned community. It’s a place with a hometown grocery that has decent meat, seafood, and a deli; a couple of ice cream shops; and a handful of good restaurants – where the island-wide dress code is ‘no shoes, no shirt, no problem.’
Mary Kay Andrews

Inspired by several of our guest chef’s recipes over at the cooking club for an Italian cioppino ad while they’ all have fantastic versions, I wanted what normally works for me on this special holiday weekend.

With the thought that summer is coming to an end, I thought it necessary to pay tribute to the bounty of the sea this Labor Day weekend and what started out as a little pot of cioppino quickly expanded to a small army sized pot of goodness that we enjoyed with several friends.  I usually reserve my best recipe for a Christmas Eve celebration, but with such fresh seafood available it just seemed right.  Friends did not disappoint donating a pound of this and a pound of that to the effort extra shrimp, calamari, and crab meat to add to the other goodies that dove into the pot for a swim.

I have numerous recipes for cioppino, but the best one is filled with a ton of ingredients, but once the prep is done it is just a matter of sautéing, tossing in tomatoes, stock and about a 45-minute simmer before tossing in your own favorite seafood.  This recipe is very adaptable

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 large garlic cloves—6 finely chopped, 2 whole
3 jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb diced*
2 anchovy fillets or a squeeze of a teaspoon or so of anchovy paste
2 large bay leaves, fish out before serving
6 or so basil leaves
Saffron
Fennel salt or seed pinches
Pinches of seafood seasoning*
*optional sausage seasoning that contains fennel, just a few pinches.
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I had plenty of roasted tomatoes and didn’t want a thicker broth)
1/2 cup dry red wine and 1/2 cup white wine
One 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, finely chopped or (whisk briefly with a stick blender) * (2 lbs. freshly roasted tomatoes)
2 cups homemade lobster stock
2-8 ounce bottles clam broth
1-1/2 cups shrimp stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Basil purée instructions:

For the basil purée: Make the basil purée in a mini food processor, combine the basil leaves with the whole garlic and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil and the crushed red pepper and process the basil puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until serving time.

Making the cioppino base: In a very large soup pot, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the chopped garlic, anchovies, jalapeños, bell peppers, onion and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, over moderately high heat until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute longer.  Add the clam broth, shrimp, lobster broth, season lightly with salt and generously with pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the broth is reduced to about 8 cups, about 20 minutes. I like to make the broth a day ahead of time as it is easily reheated before adding the seafood.  I like to steam the clams and mussels just before serving time wit so many it is hard to get them to open at the same time…Steam them in a large pan and pluck them out just as the pop open, place on a large platter.  When the soup base comes to a gentle boil, ladle a little over the clams and start adding the rest of your seafood ingredients, the calamari should cook for only a couple of minutes while the everything else takes 2-3 minutes in the bubbling hot broth…

Seafood for the cioppino can vary, I use blue crab instead of Dungeness and I prefer to add just picked crab meat.

Fresh seafood ingredients:
8 ounces-1 pound picked blue crab meat steamed (Dungeness crabs, about 2 pounds each if available)
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1-2 pounds firm, white-fleshed fish fillets such as halibut, cod, or haddock, skinned and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks * grouper
2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined * I added 3 lbs.
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1 pound sea scallops, halved vertically if large
At least 8 ounces of cleaned squid, rings and tentacles

Crusty bread, for serving

To serve:  Scoop several clams and mussels into bowls,  ladle piping hot cioppino over your bowl of shellfish,  and add a touch of the basil purée just before serving.

Great dinner shared with great friends and thanks to everyone for your contributions to dinner.