Fall and winter are two of my favorite seasons. The meals during these times tend to be a bit heartier, comforting and warming. Those seasonal meals deliver the perfect warming hug to help get you through the cold months. There was nothing more warming to me as a kid growing up then one of my grandmother’s beef soups made with many vegetables. So it's no surprise that there are three types of dishes I really enjoy preparing during these months: soups, stews, and chilies of all kinds.
I recently planned a dinner party for my co-worker Carrie and her friend Jackie. I knew that I wanted the menu to be something special. I also wanted to incorporate a belated birthday celebration for my friend Fernando.
He has a huge love for Cioppino, and I have a huge love for Cioppino, so why not Cioppino? I invited our good friends Tyler and Bryant rounding out our intimate dinner party to six.
Cioppino, pronounced chuh-Pee-no, is a tomato-based stew that was invented by San Francisco fishermen to use whatever was leftover from that day’s catch. It's now considered one of San Francisco’s signature dishes. The roots of the dish and its name are definitely Italian, but exactly when this dish appeared on the scene varies from the Gold Rush Days to the 1930’s. There are also several theories on how the name “Cioppino” came to be. My favorite is that the name comes from the word “ciuppin”, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the port city of Genoa, Italy meaning “to chop” or “chopped” describing the process of making the stew by chopping up the various leftovers of the days catch.
Other than the seafood, the standout of this stew is its very flavorful tomato broth that incorporates several aromatics, spices, herbs and wine. Although it is a seafood stew, the types of shellfish and fish that you use might vary depending upon seasonal availability. I used one of my favorite fish, halibut, along with some clams, mussels and shrimp in the Cioppino.
I also wanted to have an appetizer that would keep with the Italian flavors of the Cioppino, so I decided on an individual savory flan made with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, heavy cream and eggs. I decided to serve this creamy and rich flan on a bed of simple Pomodoro tomato sauce.
We then enjoyed a salad of mixed greens, candied pecans and goat cheese crumbles with pear and ginger vinaigrette dressing.
I really enjoy being able to tweak a recipe and make it my own. I encourage our students at The Chopping Block to do the same whenever I’m teaching a class. If you feel comfortable with adding or substituting an ingredient that makes that recipe your own, go for it. That’s what I did with this Cioppino recipe that I discovered while watching an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS. I took some of the basics of the original recipe, added a few more ingredients and made it my own.
Seafood Cioppino with Garlic Basil Oil Drizzle
Use any firm-fleshed whitefish (such as cod, halibut or sea bass) ¾ to 1-inch thick. Discard any clams or mussels with unpleasant odors, cracked shells, or shells that won’t close. If little neck clams are not available, you can substitute Manila or Mahogany clams.
¼ cup of vegetable oil
1 ½ large onions, chopped fine
½ finely chopped fennel bulb
¼ cup of water
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained with the juice reserved chopped coarse (I prefer using San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes.)
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 cups shrimp stock (link to homemade shrimp stock recipe below)
1 (1 ½-pound) skinless halibut filet, ¾ to 1 inch thick, cut into six pieces
1 pound of little neck clams, scrubbed
1 pound of mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 pound of medium, peeled and deveined shrimp
1 ¼ cups dry white wine
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Garlic Basil Oil Drizzle
1 cup of fresh basil leaves
1 clove of garlic
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Drop the clove of garlic into the tube of a food processor bowl while the blade is spinning. After the garlic is minced, turn off the processor and then add the cup of fresh basil leaves. Turn the food processor back on and then slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until all the ingredients become emulsified. Place in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat vegetable oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chopped fennel, salt, pepper and sauté for about two minutes. After two minutes, add the chopped onions and cook, stirring constantly, until onions and fennel begin to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add ¼ cup water and cook, stirring constantly, until onions and fennel are soft, about 2-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, bay leaves, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juice, clam juice, and shrimp stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Submerge halibut in broth, and gently simmer until fish is cooked through, 12-15 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer halibut to a plate and cover with aluminum foil and set aside. Add shrimp to pot and gently simmer while going on to the next step of cooking the clams.
Bring clams, wine and butter to a boil in a covered 12-inch skillet over high heat. Steam until clams just open, 5-8 minutes, transferring to the pot with the tomato broth as they open.
Once all the clams have been transferred to the pot with the tomato broth, add the mussels to the skillet, cover, and cook over high heat until mussels have opened, 2-4 minutes, transferring them to the pot with the tomato broth as they open. Pour cooking liquid from skillet into the pot, being careful not to pour any grit from the skillet into the pot.
Stir parsley into broth and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide halibut among serving bowls. Ladle broth over the halibut, making sure each portion contains the clams, mussels and shrimps. Drizzle with the garlic-basil oil prepared earlier and serve immediately.
Serve alongside with some crusty bread and butter. Or you can garnish each serving bowl with 2 crostini toasted and spread with flavored butters. There is nothing more special than welcoming good friends into your home and having them sit at your dinner table, while you serve them some great food. With everyone sitting back, laughing, talking, sipping a little wine, we enjoyed a wonderful evening and spending time together.
This dish would make a great choice for Valentine's Day next week. If you'd rather have a night out over cooking at home, choose one of our Valentine's Day themed cooking classes instead of going for the usual restaurant routine. From demonstrations to hands-on cooking, we have something for every couple, no matter your skill level in the kitchen.