I love special occasions. Real ones, made-up ones -- you name it, and I like to celebrate it. I've only lived in the Pacific Northwest for three months, but I've already celebrated a number of things. Like the night I got all four of my green dining chairs for only $40. That called for a trip to Cupcake Royale. And the day I picked up my table for only $60 -- "Hello, Cupcake" in Tacoma. This weekend I'll be celebrating the end of my membership in Indiana's illustrious Infraction Deferral Program by making my own cupcakes.
[Unrelated side note about my infraction: So this is how it went: I was enduring a day-long worst date ever. We went to a late-morning wedding. He was rude. (It was astounding, really.) Thankfully, I was able to escape for a few hours after the reception to join my friends for dinner and a play. I had such a good time with them, that by the time the play was over, the memory of the day's earlier catastrophe had faded. And this is where it all goes awry. Worst Date Ever called back and asked me to join him for a drink at my favorite South Bend establishment, CJ's Pub. Still on a fun-friend high, I thought, "I love that place. How bad could it be to go there with him?" So I fancied myself up, got in the car, and was pulled over by the police as I came coasting down what is probably the steepest hill in the greater South Bend metropolitan area. Fine. I deserved it. I was not happy, but I deserved a ticket for letting my car go 15 mph over the
Anyway...where was I? Right. I like to celebrate things. So after I collected a table and chairs (and celebrated them accordingly -- they're great!), the next natural thing was to celebrate the first dinner in my new apartment by, obviously, making an actual dinner. Inspired by all the fresh seafood available in my new home, I made cioppino, which is similar to a French bouillabaisse (cioppino nixes the saffron in favor of a true tomato base). And, OH, it was delicious! And so simple to prepare! You can make the base a day ahead (recommended to let the flavors draw through) and then just heat it up and dump in the seafood a few minutes before you are ready to eat. Served with a good loaf of crusty bread, this soup fed me very well for five days in a row...because it was just that good.
Adapted from Gourmet March 2002
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons course salt (not the regular stuff, please)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 whole tomato, pureed, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole plum tomatoes, drained, reserving juice, and chopped*
2 cups seafood stock**
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
You don't have to pick the same seafood I did. Use what is fresh and available at your store.
1 lb small (2-inch) hard-shelled clams, such as littlenecks, scrubbed
3/4 lb mussels, scrubbed with beards removed just prior to cooking
1 lb firm white fish, such as skinless red snapper or halibut, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 lb large shrimp, shelled (tails and bottom segment of shells left intact)
3/4 lb baby sea scallops
Cook garlic, onions, bay leaf, oregano, and red pepper flakes with salt and pepper in oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and tomato puree and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, seafood stock, and broth and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cool and refrigerate if not serving immediately.
Add clams and mussels to stew and simmer, covered, for 5-10 minutes. (Discard any unopened clams and mussels after 10 minutes -- they aren't safe to eat.) Lightly season fish fillets, shrimp, and scallops with salt and add to stew, then simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Discard bay leaf, stir in parsley and basil. Salt to taste and serve immediately in big bowls!
* Use the highest quality canned tomatoes you can find, preferably San Marzano.
** The original recipe calls for one bottle of clam juice, but I used the concentrated Glace de Fruit de Mer Gold seafood stock by More Than Gourmet. You can find it at Sur La Table, specialty markets, and high-end grocery stores. The nice thing about making cioppino is that you will have enough shell scraps to make your own seafood stock for the next go around.