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Cooking for Friends/ Rick’s Fish Soup

“…Pearlescent black mussels, earthy gray-brown clams, and delicate pink shrimp all look beautiful floating in a fragrant broth redolent of the sea.” Cucina Rustica

Mussels

Who would not want to make this soup?

“Cooking for friends” is one of the best ingredients for any recipe. It’s right up there with love and joy, and a good way to insure plenty of the latter ingredients. While we were in Paris, Rick’s dear friends Marie and Jean-Charles came to visit, and Rick embarked upon a cooking odyssey. It was an all-day event that involved more than one trip to the market, improvisation, several bottles of wine, and much love and joy–especially on the part of  who got to eat Rick’s fish soup.

Vegetables at Paris Market

Luckily for Rick, the outdoor market fell on the day of his extravaganza. The Bastille Market is renowned even among the Paris markets, and stretches from the neighborhood of our apartment all the way to the Bastille, half a mile away. The fishmongers’ stalls are extraordinary, with fish so fresh they seem to have just jumped off the boat. Six-foot eels wind their way around the piles of seafood, and giant fish with giant eyeballs stare at you from their beds of ice. Rick went early and chose cod, snapper, scallops, and shrimp. He filled his shopping bag with onions, potatoes, red and green peppers, tomatoes, and a bundle of fresh thyme and set off for the kitchen.

Paris Fish Market

Rick’s cooking brought to mind the musings of Michael Pollan in his book about making food, titled Cooked. He wrote, “Time is the missing ingredient in our recipes–and in our lives.” Rick didn’t need to spend all day cooking to make this stew, but he did. There is something very wonderful about spending a day in the kitchen cooking for friends and infusing ingredients with love and joy. Another thought from Pollan: “Great cooking is all about the three “P’s”: patience, presence, and practice.” Rick used all three.

Rick’s Fish Soup

Fish Soup

Rick’s fish soup was very much in the spirit of using the catch of the day. He chose ingredients that called to him at the market, took them home, and turned them into a wonderful stew. Fish stew lends itself to a gathering of friends because it is best made in a wide, generous pot that allows the precious seafood to poach gently in the broth at the very end of cooking. Rick made enough for six, well-satisfied people.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 finely chopped yellow onion, 1 tsp anchovy paste or 3 or 4 anchovy fillets, 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (added in stages), 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 diced green bell pepper, 1 1/2 cups diced smooth-skinned potato, 1 1/2 to 2 cups dry white wine (Rick used Muscadet), 2 diced medium tomatoes (or 1cup canned plum tomatoes with juice), 1 lb. cod fillet (Rick chooses the thicker “Captain’s cut”), 1 lb. snapper fillet, 1/2 lb. scallops, 1/2 lb.peeled shrimp, 1 cup heavy cream, 4 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, pimente d’espelette or red chile flakes (or, if you are lucky enough to have some, smoky Hungarian paprika)

Warm the olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Stir in the onion and sauté 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the anchovy paste or chopped anchovy fillets (here’s where Rick had to use a handful chopped oil-cured black olives to get the briny flavor he wanted because in the Paris markets, anchovy paste n’existe pas) and stir until they meld with the onions. Stir in 1 tsp thyme leaves and the garlic; continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peppers and potato; stir a few minutes longer and add the wine. Let the wine simmer for a few minutes and add the tomatoes and their juice. Add water or broth if more liquid is needed to barely cover the vegetables. Cook at a low, steady simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and the rest of the thyme. Cover and reduce the heat to very low. You can turn off the heat and go out to the market for more wine at this point, if you like.

Bring the soup back to a simmer and add the scallops and shrimp (being denser, they take slightly longer to cook, so are added first). Cover and cook 3 minutes. Cut the fish into 1-inch cubes or slices and season lightly with sea salt. Carefully add the fish pieces without stirring. Cover and cook about 3 minutes more. Stir in the cream and a pinch or two pimente d’espelette or smoky Spanish or Hungarian paprika.ungarian paprikapppap Sprinkle the soup with parsley and serve with a loaf or two of crusty bread and a few bottles of cherished wine.

More Fish Soup

More Fish Soup

Rick’s masterpiece inspired me to make a fish stew to share with friends when we returned home. The origin of fish soups from Italian brodetto to French bouillabaisse lies in the answer to the question, “What do I do with all the little fish left in the net after I’ve sold all the big fish?” Traditional recipes call for fish stock made with fish heads and bones, as well as a dozen or more varieties of fish and shellfish for the stew, all contributing to the many-layered flavor of the finished soup. Unshelled shrimp, mussels, and clams and very small whole fish make the most flavorful broth.

Alas, most of us don’t live in fishing villages and have a much more limited choice of fish. But, after sampling Rick’s wonderful soup, I knew I didn’t need an ocean of fish to make a tasty stew. I went fishing at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; then I went fishing for recipes to match my catch. I turned to a recipe from John Ash, originally printed in Fine Cooking magazine, for turning chicken stock into a flavorful broth using shrimp shells. The stock is used to make broth for his version of Cioppino, a San Francisco-style fish soup.

Faux Fish Stock

Fish Stock

Ingredients: 1 lb. large shrimp, 6 cups homemade or low salt canned chicken broth

Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells. Refrigerate the shelled shrimp to add to the soup later. Simmer the shells in chicken broth for 5 to 10 minutes, covered. Strain and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

I was able to test this recipe using trout heads from the giant trout lurking in our pond, known as “Troutzilla”. I simmered trout heads with chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic in homemade chicken broth for about 15 minutes. Then I threw in a handful of dried bonito flakes for extra umami and let the broth steep another 5 minutes before straining.

Celebration Fish Stew

Fish at the Market

I adapted two recipes for my celebration fish stew dinner party. I knew the fish would need the help of Ash’s brightly flavored Cioppino broth and I also liked the looks of a Tunisian fish soup in Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem, which would let me use my beautiful fennel bulbs and preserved lemon. Ginny and Danny brought fresh Carolina shrimp to provide “redolence of the sea.”

Cioppino Broth: 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion, 2/3 cup coarsely chopped celery or fennel, 1 cup coarsely chopped carrot, 3 Tbs chopped garlic, 3 cups canned tomatoes with juices, 2 1/2 cups dry red or white wine (Ash uses Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese…I used Pinot Grigio), 6 cups faux fish stock, 3 large bay leaves, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp red chile flakes, Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In the olive oil in an 8-quart or larger pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery or fennel, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, wine, shellfish stock, bay leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, chile flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and maintain a low simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the broth, pressing the solids to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids and return the broth to the pot. Boil until reduced to 8 cups. Taste and adjust the seasonings. This broth may be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen.

The Stew: 2 Tbs olive oil, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves. 1 large waxy potato (6 to 8 oz), 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 12 oz), 1/2 preserved lemon, 1 Tbs sweet paprika, 2 cups diced tomatoes, 1 lb scrubbed clams*, 1 lb scrubbed mussels*, 2 1/2 lbs fillets of firm-fleshed white fish–halibut, flounder, sea bass, monkfish, etc, 1 lb peeled shrimp, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon

*Use whatever fresh seafood is available.

Note: Adding more vegetables is optional. You can and go straight to cooking the seafood in the prepared broth, if you like. Cut the potato into 2/3-inch cubes. Trim the fennel bulbs and cut into very thin wedges. Warm the olive oil in a wide sauté pan or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the potato, fennel, and chopped preserved lemon and cook 4 or 5 minutes. Add the strained broth, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over low heat 12 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are barely tender. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer 4 to 5 minutes more.

Now cook the seafood. Add the scrubbed clams to the simmering broth and cook until they open, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mussels and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. When all the shellfish have opened, add the fish and shrimp, trying not to break the pieces. Cover, and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until barely cooked through. The fish will continue to cook in the hot broth until served. Garnish with chopped parsley and tarragon. Serve with couscous or crusty bread o sop up the broth.

Vegetables at Market

Seeds from Italy

My seeds from Italy came in the mail! The packages are big and beautiful, with gorgeous photos and information printed in many languages. The new owners of the Seeds from Italy Company, Dan Nagengast and Lynn Byczynski, are experienced flower and market gardeners, so their e- newsletter is full of useful information and tips to make you want to start planting RIGHT AWAY! It also makes you want to try all 18 zucchini varieties and 31 chicories, not to mention the wonderful peppers, tomatoes, and beans…each essential to a particular regional cuisine. “In Italy, growing vegetables is not thought of as a separate activity from cooking”, they explain. Of course not!

Italian Seeds

I ordered fennel, so I can make fennel gratin…wild fennel, so I will have the seed for authentic Southern Italian flavor…two kinds of cima di rapa (broccoli rabe, or raab) for dragging through garlic oil (aglia olio)…three chicories for salad and braising…. my favorite sweet pepper, “Corno di Toro”…and borlotto beans for my favorite bean soup made with freshly shelled beans. I couldn’t resist the name, “Fagiolo rampicante borlotto lingua di fuoco”. They turned out to be the same bean I have been growing for years that is called “Tongue of Fire” in U.S. seed catalogs! Borlotto beans are also known as “cranberry beans” or “Roman beans”.

 Fresh Shell Bean Soup, or Soup au Pistou

BeansHow do you make this wonderful soup? Most places you will have to grow your own beans to have fresh shelled beans, unless you live around a lot of Italians. Any fresh shell beans can be used, but the Borlotto (or Cranberry) beans have a unique, almost chestnut-like flavor. The beans are ready in late summer or early fall; they are big and plump and beautifully colored with dark red streaks and speckles. The shelled beans freeze very successfully in tightly sealed freezer bags. If fresh or frozen beans aren’t available, dried beans can be used.

If you are using dried beans, soak 1 1/2 cups beans for 8 hours or so in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain and rinse before cooking. A quicker method: bring the beans to a boil in water to cover by 3 inches, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit 1 to 2 hours. Drain and rinse before cooking. Put the soaked beans in a large pot with fresh water to cover by 1 inch with one sprig fresh rosemary, 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 small hot chile, and 3 smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and partially cover. Maintain a gentle simmer until the beans begin to soften, 30 to 40 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp salt and continue to cook until the beans are tender but still firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Test several beans to check for doneness. The cooked beans will be added into the soup.

To make the soup with fresh beans, you will need 3 cups shelled beans. Heat 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven with 1/4 cup diced pancetta or bacon (this is optional but recommended). Cook over low heat until the meat begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add 1 large chopped onion, 2 diced carrots, 1 small diced fennel bulb, and 2 diced celery stalks. Stir to coat with oil and cook, stirring frequently until they soften, about 6 minutes. Add 3 or 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme, a pinch of red chile flakes, and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir 1 minute. Add 1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 1/2 cups diced potato   (or sliced green cabbage, if you prefer), and the shelled beans. Stir until the vegetables are heated, about 2 minutes. Add 1 quart homemade chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook, partially covered, until the beans are tender, 20 to 40 minutes. If you have started with dry beans, add the cooked beans and as much of their cooking broth as you like into the soup and simmer 5 to 10 minutes to meld the flavors. To thicken the soup, mash or puree some of the beans and stir them back into the soup. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve with Pistou and crusty bread.

ParsleyPistou, or pesto: In the late summer or fall, the pistou can be made with fresh basil leaves, but in winter or spring, I use parsley or a combination of parsley and sorrel or fennel fronds. Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, make a paste with 2 garlic cloves and a pinch of kosher salt. Add 2 cups fresh basil, parsley, or a combination of parsley, fennel, and sorrel leaves and pound or process to a rough paste. Add 2 tsp fresh lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.