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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Soups Up (the hearty seafood variety)

On top of the good food I had in San Francisco restaurants, the icing on the cake was that I was invited to a dinner party cooked by a master chef in training who made the most amazing garlic bread and heartwarming seafood stew.

The menu was simple yet hearty and flavorful.

We started out with Belgian endives topped with a modified Caprese salad of sweet tomatoes, balls of mozarella and shredded basil seasoned with oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar (she may some other secret ingredient I wasn't aware of). It was great because while I'm not a huge Belgian endives fan, the bitterness of the vegetable complemented very nicely with the refreshing and garlicky salad topping. It was also a treat not having to cut each piece of tomato and making sure each morsel contained the threesome combination that make a Caprese salad great. No fussing -- I just scooped it up with an endive, or bread later when we ran out of endives.

Now for my favorite part of the meal -- the garlic bread. While she didn't make the bread herself (courtesy of Il Fornaio), she brushed the chunky slices with a divine mixture of olive oil and garlic before placing them face-down on a nonstick grill pan and grilling them to perfection, crispy and soft at the same time, complete with grill marks. I know that an actual BBQ grill would do the trick better, but since I don't have one and won't get one anytime soon, I vowed to treat myself to one of those pans soon.

Needless to say that the bread topped with the Caprese salad was even better than the endives. You could say I had bruschetta, then, although the correct pronunciation of the beloved appetizer and snack topped with anything from tomatoes to prosciutto is much debated (is it brus-ke-ta or brus-she-ta? We hear it's likely the former and others have said both are correct, but maybe I need to consult my Italian sources in Bologna to weigh in).

We had to police guests from eating all the bread so we could use it to soak up the juices of the wonderful seafood stew called cioppino. I'd like to share a unique cioppino recipe our host created from multiple sources. The cioppino was extremely filling but it felt ok indulging because it was fish, clams, shrimp and veggies -- stuff that's good for you in moderation, of course. In short, it was the perfect comfort food for a cold day.

I'd like to thank our host, JK, aka Cocinera, who graciously fed us and shared her passion for cooking with us mere mortal cooks. Hope she doesn't forget about us little people when she opens her new cozy eatery!

photos: courtesy of Catherine the Great.

Cioppino Recipe
(serves 6)

1 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
4 large shallots, chopped
1 can (28 oz) peeled tomatoes, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs flat leaf parsley, minced
3 Tbs basil, chiffonade
1 Tbs thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 Tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup (8 oz) tomato paste
2 cups dry white wine
6 cups fish stock/clam juice
Olive oil
salt & fresh ground pepper for seasoning
1/2 lb large shrimp
1/2 lb mussels
1 lb clams
1/2 lb halibut
1/2 lb squid

1. Clean & steam the mussels & clams in water until the shells open. Remove the seafood and save the liquid.

2. Shell & devein the shrimp, leaving the tails intact.

3. Make additional fish stock if there isn't enough clam juice.

4. Heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot.

5. Add onions, shallots, green & red bell peppers until tender (about 5-6 minutes).

6. Add garlic & red pepper flakes and sauté for few more minutes.

7. Add tomato paste, peeled tomatoes (with juice), basil, thyme, parsley and bay leaf. Cook for 2 minutes.

8. Add white wine & fish stock. Bring to boil.

9. Salt & Pepper to taste.

10. Cover the pot and bring the heat low to simmer for 30 minutes.

11. Add shrimp, squid & fish. Continue to simmer until fish & shrimp are cooked.

12. Add mussels & clams. Cover and simmer for 5 more minutes.

13. More salt, pepper & red pepper flakes to taste.

Ladle the stew into bowls and serve with garlic bread.


omurice said...

doh, i forgot the golden rule about this blog: don't read it on an empty stomach! sounds like a great meal.

CTG said...

So are you going to hire me as your photographer? :)

ironchef442 said...

i thought you already were my photographer! so long as you're w/me when i eat, you're it, CTG. you can be my food stylist too!