Dear SOS: I am a huge fan of cioppino and have tried many versions in restaurants far and wide. But the best Italian fish stew I have ever tasted (which I don't think would qualify as cioppino, as it didn't have a tomato-based sauce) was served by a wonderful restaurant in Portland, Ore., by the name of Castagna. The broth was ambrosia. I would be eternally grateful if you could discover and share their recipe.
Dear John: This striking dish is perfect for summer entertaining, and half of the recipe can be made in advance. The rich fish broth is delicately flavored with leek and fennel, complemented with bright notes from lemon and Pernod, and rounded out with just a hint of chile and tomato for added depth. Serve each bowl with a generous helping of steamed and sautéed fish and shellfish, crostini and creamy anchovy aioli or rouille.
Zuppa di pesce Castagna Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes Servings: 8 Note: Adapted from chef Elias Cairo of Castagna. Fish stock or broth is available at most fish markets and cooking supply stores, and can be found at many well-stocked fish counters at major markets. The restaurant serves the soup with crostini and anchovy aioli or rouille. Soup base 4 leeks, white parts only, coarsely chopped and washed 1 bulb fennel, coarsely chopped 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 dried chile de arbol, seeded 3 tablespoons tomato paste 2 tablespoons Arborio rice 2 quarts fish stock or broth, or vegetable broth, plus more as needed Salt Pernod Juice of one lemon, or to taste 1. In a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat, sauté the leeks and fennel in the olive oil until translucent. Stir in the pepper and tomato paste and continue cooking until the tomato paste has darkened in color and thickened slightly, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. 2. Stir in the Arborio rice, then the fish stock, scraping any flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and continue cooking until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. 3. Purée the soup base in a blender until smooth, then pass through a fine sieve, discarding any solids. Adjust the seasonings with salt, Pernod and lemon juice to taste. If the base is too thick, add additional fish stock to thin. Soup and assembly 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 24 mussels, de-bearded 24 clams 1/4 cup dry white wine Soup base Salt Pepper 16 prawns, cleaned 16 scallops, quartered crosswise 1/4 cups chopped chives 1 pound cleaned cod or monkfish, cut into 2-inch pieces Flour for dredging 1. In a large frying pan or skillet, sauté the shallots in 2 tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Stir in the mussels and clams, then stir in the white wine. 2. Cover the pan and simmer until the clams and mussels open (discard any that will not open). Stir in the soup base, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the prawns and scallops, then bring to a gentle simmer and poach the fish until done (the fish should be just firm and opaque). Stir in the chopped chives. 3. Meanwhile, season each piece of cod with a light pinch each of salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the fish in flour. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, and add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the fish pieces a few at a time and sauté until lightly golden on both sides and the fish is firm and opaque, 2 to 4 minutes on each side. 4. Divide the soup between 8 warm bowls and top with the sautéed cod. Serve immediately. Each serving: 414 calories; 31 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 74 mg. cholesterol; 614 mg. sodium.