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Tomato and Basil Seafood Stew: The Simplified Italian Cioppino

Otherwise referred to in our home, as the soul gratifying fish soup. With an aromatic base of onions, lemon zest, lemon juice, saffron, white wine and San Marzano tomatoes, the sauce is simmered until it reaches the sexy level. Then the mélange of seafood is braised in this fragrant sauce, and served with loads of hand torn fresh basil, rustic Italian bread, and chilled white wine. Honestly, it can’t get easier, and tastier than this. Yet another reason why we’re so in love with Mediterranean cuisine.

For a variation, try adding a dash of Pernod, or braised it with rosemary sprigs. The base is so solid that you can easily customize it to your palate.

Serves 4

The key technique for this dish is in developing the aromatic base for the stew, right from the start. The base being the infusion of the olive oil, lemon zest and onions, sweated then sautéed until the onions become translucent and the liquid evaporates becoming au sec (dry), then turn up the heat to high and listen to the sound of the sauté (jump) and deglaze the pan twice, first with the white wine, then with the lemon juice.

Allow this base to sizzle and infuse until, once again, au sec. Then proceed with adding the tomatoes, garlic, basil leaves, salt. Bring it all to boil (B2B). Start with adding the fish that would take the longest to cook, and then add the rest of the quick-cooking seafood, close the lid and don’t open the lid to allow steam to build to a maximum. The dish is done when the shells of the mussels open.

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small yellow onion, small dice

Zest of 1 lemon, grated

½ cup dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc preferred

2 cans of plum tomatoes, San Marzano preferred, hand crushed

¼ cup fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

6 garlic cloves, halved, germs removed, finely grated

10-12 fresh basil leaves, hand torn

Sea salt, to taste

16 mussles

16 clams

12 shrimp

8 oz mixed fish like cod, halibut, swordfish or any of your favorite fish

Sweat onions on medium heat until translucent.  Turn heat on high and add the lemon zest, au sec.  Deglaze with some of the white wine.  Add the tomatoes and basil leaves and bring to boil.  Simmer sauce for 15-20 minutes to concentrate flavours.  Add the grated garlic, lemon juice and more white wine; bring to boil.  You’re ready to add the seafood.  First add the meaty fish such as the cod or swordfish…2-3 minutes later, add the shellfish.  Cover pan and cook until the shells open.  Discard closed shells and serve in large deep bowls sprinkled with lots more of the basil leaves and fresh lemon juice.

Serve with crusty bread to mop up the broth and a mesclun salad.

Excellent with a rosé or dry white.

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