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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cioppino with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic-Parsley Toasts

Cioppino is said to have originated among fishermen who made their dinners out of the fish and shellfish they couldn't sell in the morning. Although it has evolved into a pricey item on upscale menus, at heart cioppino is comfort food.

Traditionally cioppino features fresh crab, reflecting the origin of the dish in San Francisco where Dungeness crabs are plentiful. When crab isn't available or affordable, shrimp works just as well. Clams and mussels are essential to the dish, as are cubes of fish fillets. Flounder sole, tilapia, salmon, or halibut all work well.

Find a reliable supplier of seafood. To ensure we're getting the freshest ingredients, we buy our clams and mussels from Carlsbad Aqua Farm at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market (Wednesday and Sunday) and our flounder sole from Tropical Seafood at the Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market (Sunday).

Tomatoes
are as important to making cioppino as is good quality seafood. If the tomatoes are roasted, the soup has a beautiful sweetness edged with the tomato's natural acidity.

One of the helpful aspects of this dish is that many of the elements can be prepared ahead and frozen for later use. I pick up overly ripe tomatoes at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market when they're discounted. I'll buy several pounds, roast them, freezing some whole in an air tight container and turning the rest into tomato sauce, which I also freeze.

The clams and mussels can be cooked, taken out of their shells, and frozen. If the meat is submerged in the broth, there's no danger of freezer burn. The fish fillets can be cut into 1/2" squares, tossed in olive oil, and frozen in a Ziploc bag. That way all the essential parts of the cioppino are waiting in the freezer whenever you want a taste treat.

Cioppino with Roasted Tomatoes

While serving cioppino with shellfish in the shell is more picturesque, my vote is to take the clams, mussels, and crab out of their shells so eating the dish is easier.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes plus 45-60 minutes for the tomatoes

Ingredients

6 large ripe tomatoes, washed
8 cloves garlic, skins removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems
1/2 pound mushrooms--shiitake or brown--washed, thinly sliced
1 pound Dungeness crab legs, cooked, washed, cut into 1" pieces or 1 pound shrimp, shelled, deveined, cut into 1" pieces
2 pounds butter or little neck clams, washed
2 pounds mussels, washed, beards removed
1 pound fish fillet--sole, salmon, tilapia, or halibut--washed, cut into 1/2" cubes
Olive oil
Black pepper

Method

Roasting the Tomatoes

Remove the remnants of the stem at the top of the tomato and discard. Put the tomatoes on a Silpat or aluminum foil sheet on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes.

Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl, reserving all the liquid on the bottom of the baking tray. When cooled to the touch, remove the skins and discard. With your fingers, tear the tomatoes into small pieces. Set aside.

Parsley-Garlic Toasts

To make the parsley-garlic toasts, heat 1/4 cup olive oil, seasoned with half the garlic and parsley. Make two slices for each person. Saute the bread on each side until lightly browned.

Cioppino

In a large stock pot, drizzle olive oil on the bottom, heat on a low flame, saute the remaining garlic and parsley until softened. Add 1/4 cup water, the clams and mussels, turn the flame to high, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove all the clams and mussels that have opened. If any are still closed, put the cover back on and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Any clams and mussels that still haven't opened at that point should be discarded.

Slowly pour the broth into a large bowl. Discard any grit remaining in the stock pot. Return the pot to the stove, drizzle more olive oil, and saute the mushrooms over a low flame until lightly browned. Add the broth and roasted tomato pulp and sauce. Simmer 15 minutes.

Add the fish fillets, stir well, and cook 5 minutes. Add the crab or shrimp and cook for 2 minutes. Finally, add the mussels and clams, stirring them into the broth, being careful not to break apart the fish fillets. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Place 1 slice of garlic-parsley toast on the bottom of each bowl, add the cioppino, then place the 2nd slice on top.

Variations

Instead of garlic cloves in the cioppino saute, use 1 whole green garlic, outer skin of the bulb and root end removed, white and green parts thinly sliced

Add 1 cup cubes of cooked, peeled potato, preferably Yukon Gold or fingerlings, unpeeled and quartered

Add kernels from 1 grilled corn on the cob

Substitute cilantro for the parsley

Saute thin rounds of Italian sausage or chorizo, add to the broth

Use 1/4 cup white instead of water