~ Portofino, Italia ~

This is ultimate comfort food from the sea.  Warming bowls of this ubiquitous, but never identical, concoction can be found up and down the Italian coast, from Sicily to Liguria. Literally translated as “Fish Soup” it isn’t really either of those things.  Yes, it contains fish, but is more akin to a stew than anything else.  The version below went from raw to plated in under 1 hour.  Read on…  (warning, these images are graphic)

Tuscan Zuppa di Pesce

The first thing I would stress about this, is how simple it is.  Don’t be intimated. It’s not hard, nor is it messy.  The entire dish is made in one pot. All you need to do is think about the cooking order of the items and that’s where I come in!

1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 bottle dry white wine
4 cloves sliced garlic
3 squid bodies, two handfuls tentacles (3/4 lb)
3 similar sized hunks Chilean Sea Bass (3/4 lb)
12 medium clams
12 jumbo shrimp
Salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil
Crushed red pepper

Purists can complain all they want, I used frozen shrimp. The squid came from a great purveyor and was already cleaned and ready to be used.  

The first step is to slice the garlic and begin sauteing in oil. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed pepper flakes.  The early stages…

Extra Virgin Oil, garlic and seasoning. The base is important

Once the garlic is fragrant, about 2-3 minutes over medium heat, add the can of tomatoes and simmer 10-15 minutes so that they cook down and thicken a bit.  I added a few basil leaves too.  While this was simmering, I thawed the shrimp in water, sliced the calamari bodies crosswise and began to prepare the crostini.  Here’s the next picture.

Nonna’s spoon.  Crushed tomato, seasoned and reducing
While this was cooking, preheat the oven broiler to 350 and prepare the crostini.  They’re simple to do and are essential to soak up the broth! Slice an NCL (that’s “Nice Crusty Loaf”) of Italian bread crosswise. Arrange on cookie sheet.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Once this is done and the calamari bodies are cut, you’re ready to drop the clams into the tomato broth.  When the clams go in, so to goes the 1/2 bottle of white wine.  Cover, and leave covered until the clams steam open.  Over medium heat, maybe 10-15 minutes. 

Clams, white wine, and basil added. Note on the inside of the pot, the reduction of the tomato

Here is a snap of the Crostini prepared for the oven. On a weekend, I may have left off the garlic powder and instead rubbed them with raw garlic when they came out of the oven,  but school nights necessitate some short cuts.

Prepared Crostini: These can sit until the very end. They only take 2-3 minutes under the broiler

Now, depending upon the thickness of your sea bass, will depend on how soon you start to cook them off. They don’t take long.  I did mine in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, with salt and pepper. Skin side down first, with just a splash of wine.  The key here is, once they are cooked, you can turn off the flame and leave the pan on the heat – but now you’ve passed the point of no return to get the dish plated. Here’s the Sea Bass.

Chilean Sea Bass – Seasoned & Pan Sauteing

By the time the Sea Bass cooks through, which takes maybe 10 minutes, the clams will be open.  Drain the shrimp and toss them into the pot.  They’ll warm through in a minute or two.

Here are the opened Clams & the Shrimp. Test your broth for seasoning

Nearing the home stretch….

Here is the Calamari.  Bodies are sliced, tentacles on the side. Ready for the pot

Now you add the Calamari.  But here’s an important rule you have to remember. You cook Calamari either 2 minutes, or 2 hours.  Nothing in between unless you like chewing rubber.  So when you add the Calamari, pop the Crostini into the broiler and be ready to plate and serve. 

Here’s the Calamari in the Pot.  They cook in about 90 seconds

Golden Garlic Crostini – they soak up broth like a sponge!

When plating, remove the Sea Bass from the pan and arrange in the individual pieces in the center the bowls.  Spoon the Zuppa over the fish and garnish each bowl with 2 crostini.  Serve immediately!

The Finished Zuppa di Pesce – Mangia!

No meal this fine would be complete without wine. (naturally!) and while some may have reached for a white, I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t in the mood.  I figured, with the tomato based broth, I could find a red that would work well.  I succeeded. 

The 2009 Falesco Montiano is pure Merlot, 100% from the hills outside of Rome.  I love this wine – vintage after vintage it offers amazing complexity, ripeness and consistency. It’s not cheap, but it’s not as expensive as other wines of similar quality. This was my first tasting of this vintage and it’s one to stock up on.  

In the glass, it’s bright, dark purple with an engaging nose of sage, lavendar, black plummy fruit and coffee. In the mouth the wine is ripe and round with deep plum flavors accented by leather, black olive and herbs. Why can’t all Merlot be like this? It’s absolutely delicious and paired well with the food.  The buttery texture of the Sea Bass really brought out the fruit in the wine and the acids stood up well to the tomato broth. All in all, it was outstanding. The 2009 is something special.  93 points, about $36.  

2009 Falesco Montiano – Gorgeous Merlot from the Roman Hills! 

a Salute!

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