Sunday, February 28, 2010


This weekend we celebrated Derek's mother's birthday. Normally when we get together with his family, we all go over his parent's house and his mother cooks. So, we decided to give her the night off for her special day. Both Derek's brothers have young kids, so going out to a restaurant is not the best option. Instead, my sister-in-law Christina and I made dinner for the whole clan. Derek's mother is a pretty adventurous eater, she'll try (and appreciate) just about anything. Derek's father and his brothers are a different story, and none of them eat seafood. So, with Derek's mother in mind, I made a big pot of cioppino. For the boys (big and little), Christina made pasta and meatballs. She also made garlic bread and salad to round out the meal.

Cioppino is a fish stew created by Italian immigrants in San Francisco. Its sort of an Italian Bouillabaisse (my favorite). I started with chopped onion and leeks.

I sauteed these then added chopped garlic and thinly sliced fennel.

With one finger kept out of the way. Then I mixed in tomatoes, clam juice and vegetable broth. Its all simmered for a bit, then cooked with fish, shrimp, clams and mussels - or whatever seafood you prefer!

1/2 olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 large leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced and washed in a bowl of cold water
1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 x 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 bottle clam juice
2 cups vegetable broth
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb cod or other firm white fish
1 lb cleaned shrimp
1 lb littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 lbs mussels, scrubbed
1 large handful of basil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Heat 1/4 olive oil in a large dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, and fennel and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 more minutes. Pour in white wine and simmer until liquid is mostly cooked off. Add tomatoes and crush with potato masher until tomatoes are mostly crushed with some chunks. Pour in clam juice in vegetable broth. Season with salt and pepper and add red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20- 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Add fish, shrimp and clams to pot. Simmer about 10 minutes until clams start to open. Add mussels and cook about 5 minutes more until seafood is cooked through.
  • While soup cooks, puree basil and garlic in a good processor. Add olive oil in a slow stream. 
  • To serve, pour soup into bowls with a little of each seafood. Top with a drizzle of basil oil.
Of course, what is a birthday party without a birthday cake. I made Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake from Baking for this occasion. Its a beautiful cake. Light, lemony cake layered with raspberry jam and a fantastic butter cream.

This was a part of the meal that everyone enjoyed!

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