Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cioppino benissimo

After a recent trip to San Francisco, we discovered how sleep-inducing the sound of waves and foghorns off in the distance could be. When we got back to Charlottesville, we found a bedside clock that mimicked the sound of the seashore, and have used it to lull us to sleep.

One drawback is it makes us long for the dishes we associate with the Bay Area: Dungeness crabs, sourdough bread and cioppino. While I don't think we'll find those fresh big crabs or the exact sourdough in Virginia, I still managed to make a fine cioppino, thanks to Seafood on West Main. Paired with a baguette from Albemarle Baking Company, it made us a little less lonely for Baghdad by the Bay.

Cioppino Benissimo
By Lori Korleski Richardson
Serves 4-6

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion
1 small (or 1/2 large) fennel bulb
4 garlic cloves
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (with basil, optional)
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
1 pound skinless fillets of a white fish (halibut, talapia, haddock or cod), cut into 1" pieces
1 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1/2 pound cleaned squid, thawed if frozen, bodies cut into 1/2" rings, tentacles left whole
Crusty baguette, or sourdough bread


Toast fennel seeds over medium heat until fragrant. Cool and grind to fine powder in spice grinder. Set aside.

Finely chop garlic, onion and fennel (food processor is fine for this) and combine. Put oil in a large heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add bay leaf, oregano, the ground fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. Stir in tomatoes and cook for about a minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add clam juice and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (You can do this step up to a day before serving and reheat.)

About 7 minutes before serving, add the fish chunks and mussels and cook until the mussels begin to open, about 2 minutes. Add the squid rings and tentacles and cook 5 minutes.
Serve hot in large soup bowls with bread. Set out small bowls for the mussel shells.

If you double the recipe, double the fish, and add 1 1/2 pounds of other seafood as you like: clams, shrimp and/or crab. If you like spicy food, increase the red pepper flakes to 1 teaspoon.

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