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Zuppa di Pesce

Along the Tuscan coast of Italy, zuppa di pesce, a thick fish soup ladled over bread, is a popular dish. The ingredients vary according to what is available at the market, so buy what looks best and what your pocketbook can handle. Choose deboned fish fillets if possible.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lb. assorted fish and shellfish, such as clams, mussels, snapper, striped bass, cod, haddock, cleaned squid, shrimp in the shell and crab, in any combination 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, 2 minced and 1 halved lengthwise 
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes 
  • 1 cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio 
  • 3 cups canned tomato puree 
  • 6 thick slices coarse country bread 

Directions:

If using clams, scrub well, discarding any that fail to close to the touch. If using mussels, scrub well, debeard and discard any that fail to close to the touch.

If using fish fillets, cut into large chunks. Clean any whole fish, remove and discard their heads and tails, remove their skin and cut crosswise into thick slices on the bone. If using squid, cut the body into rings about 1 inch wide and the tentacles into medium-size pieces. Place all the seafood in a bowl of salted cold water and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften and is fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the minced garlic and 2 Tbs. of the parsley and sauté until the garlic is fragrant, 1 minute.

Raise the heat to high, add the red pepper flakes and pour in the wine. Let the alcohol bubble away for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to medium, pour in the tomato puree and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended, about 5 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, begin adding the seafood to the soup, starting with the squid, adding the fish slices after 10 minutes, and ending with the shellfish. After all the seafood is added, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at a slow simmer for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and rub the surface with the cut sides of the halved garlic. Place 1 bread slice in each warmed soup bowl.

Transfer the soup to a warmed tureen, discarding any clams or mussels that failed to open. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbs. parsley. Bring the tureen to the table and ladle a mix of fish and shellfish and some broth over the toast in each bowl. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).