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Archive for Wednesday, December 29, 1999

SEAFOOD FEAST FITS NEW YEAR WELL

December 29, 1999

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When I lived in Northern California some 20 years ago, I found myself eating Italian food on most celebratory occasions, and New Year's was no exception. Cioppino is the dish I came to associate with New Year's Day and, because it's basically a shellfish stew, it still seems particularly well-suited to such a laid-back holiday.

On the other hand, cioppino requires enough preparation and a sufficiently broad assortment of ingredients to make it worthy of commemorating the beginning of a new year. Here in Kansas, this seems doubly true. While our larger supermarkets now carry an adequate variety of fresh seafood to supply even the most adventurous cioppino-maker, the convergence of so many kinds of fish in one pot is rare in these parts.

Since our distance from any ocean forces us to pay a premium for seafood, the expense of assembling cioppino in a Kansas kitchen also forces us to reserve this particular dish for a special occasion.

Cioppino also deserves special status because eating it is a production that requires the hands-on engagement of everyone at the table. All the shellfish but the shrimp are added to the stew while still in the shell, which gives the broth an amazing depth of flavor. But because the shells are intact when the cioppino is served, eating it is a roll-up-the-sleeves activity made easier if the stew is served in wide shallow bowls and a crab meat fork and shell cracker are close at hand.

The first time I participated in a cioppino feed, I was reminded of eating barbecued ribs. When you leave the table, you definitely want to wipe your chin and wash your hands.

As with any stew, what goes into cioppino is subject to the cook's whim and the availability of ingredients. Those that remain constant from recipe to recipe are crab and shrimp. Most recipes also call for clams and some variety of white fish, and some recipes list squid, mussels, anchovies, scallops and lobster.

The foundation is always a tomatoey fish broth but it may be laced with either white or red wine. The vegetable ingredients always begin with tomatoes, and that is where many cooks stop. Onions, mushrooms and green peppers are common in cioppino, however, and I've also eaten cioppino that contained potatoes.

The seasonings in both red and white cioppino traditionally are selected from basil, oregano, parsley, garlic, bay leaf and cayenne.

The following recipe, taken from "The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook," is easy to prepare and is amenable to tinkering by the cook. Oddly, it does not, like most others, call for clams. I've added instructions for including them. Some recipes call for adding fish stock, prepared by simmering fish bones and heads in herbs and onion, which can be used to thin the base. Although this recipe doesn't call for it, that would certainly be an option here, for anyone inclined to experiment.



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where many cooks stop. Onions, mushrooms and green peppers are common in cioppino, however, and I've also eaten cioppino that contained potatoes.

The seasonings in both red and white cioppino traditionally are selected from basil, oregano, parsley, garlic, bay leaf and cayenne.

The following recipe, taken from "The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook," is easy to prepare and is amenable to tinkering by the cook. Oddly, it does not, like most others, call for clams. I've added instructions for including them. Some recipes call for adding fish stock, prepared by simmering fish bones and heads in herbs and onion, which can be used to thin the base. Although this recipe doesn't call for it, that would certainly be an option here, for anyone inclined to expec together until fine, then saute in the oil until golden. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves, oregano and salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Add the wine, shrimp and the fish. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the whole clams, then add the crabs, leaving the claw meat in the shells and cracking them. Correct the seasoning and cook another 8 to 10 minutes, until the clams open. (The clams also may be steamed separately, then added to the stew for the last few minutes of cooking.) Serve in warm soup plates with garlic bread. Makes six to 10 servings, depending on appetites.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger@harvey. bakeru.edu. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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