Along Italy’s Pacific Coast


Wait, what?  There’s the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, but when did this whole Pacific thing happen?  About 150 years ago, actually, when Italian immigrants to the U.S. made their way westward and those of a more nautical disposition found work is San Francisco’s fishing industry.  While many in the Bay Area discovered wealth inland extracting gold, Italians made their money off the shore, extracting the sea’s bounty, fish.

It wasn’t long before Italian immigrants became the Northern California fishing industry.  Boat crews took the tomato-basil soup they remembered, added a generous collection of the day’s catch, and cioppino came to be.  The combination was so delicious, it quickly became a favorite in San Francisco and now is second perhaps only to sourdough bread in the city’s culinary portfolio.

Today’s entry is a slight variation favored a bit down the coast, in Monterey, specifically at its most famous purveyor, Phil’s.  Cook’s Country secured the recipe and reported it in its December (2017)/January 2018 issue.

In fact, a little tomato broth may qualify cioppino as a soup, perhaps, but as you can see in the photo above. it’s more accurately a seafood dish.  Cioppino is bursting with it.  Shellfish mainly, nearly every variety found in NorCal’s waters, but also a healthy portion of “scale” fish – in today’s case, sea bass.  If you like seafood, this is your dish.  If you love seafood, oh wow, you’ll be in heaven.

Of course, you’ll need a crusty bread to sop up that exquisitely-flavored broth, and Cook’s Country suggests a baguette.  That’s passable advice, but a more perfect choice is what’s favored at Phil’s and what has been recommended often elsewhere, sourdough garlic bread.  If one thing is even more widespread on NorCal’s menus than cioppino, it’s sourdough.

A site called Kitchy Kitchen offered the idea, and it uses a whole loaf of sourdough, sliced deeply, but not all the way through,  allowing diners to tear off a slice at a time while keeping the rest warm.  That combination of garlic butter, tomato sauce and seafood – divine!

In a city famous the world over for its cuisine, cioppino is in San Francisco’s top tier, the best of the best.  Coupled with a flavorful loaf of garlic sourdough, the perfect dinner is complete.  It’s Italian food with a unique NorCal flair!

*****

Simple Garlic Bread

  •  1 loaf sourdough
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely-chopped (*1)

Slice the sourdough into 1-inch slices, cutting about 3/4 of the way into the loaf, while leaving it intact.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and the olive oil together.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and add the salt, pepper and parsley.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.  Place a large sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and place the bread on it.  Pour the garlic mixture over the bread, being sure to get it between all the slices.  Fold the aluminum foil over the bread so that it’s completely covered.  Bake for about 10 minutes.

Turn oven to its “broil” setting and  open the foil so the bread’s top is exposed.  Broil for a minute or two, until the top just begins to brown.

NOTES:

1 – I chose cilantro, as I prefer its fresher, less-bitter taste to that of parsley.

*****

Monterey Bay Cioppino

For the marinara:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly (*2)
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cioppino:

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds sea bass, skinned and cut into 1 and 1/2-inch pieces
  • 12 ounces extra-large shrimp
  • 12 ounces large scallops, halved horizontally
  • 1 pound mussels
  • 12 ounces crab, optional (*3)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 2 8-ounce bottles of clam juice

For the marinara, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, until shimmering.  Add the onion, garlic and salt and cook until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, basil, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and cinnamon and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

For the cioppino, season the sea bass, scallops and shrimp with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat, until it shimmers.  Add the salt, Worcestershire, saffron, garlic, sherry and mussels.  Cover and cook until the mussels begin to open, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the clam juice and marinara until combined.  Nestle the sea bass, scallops and crab (if using) into the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for 2 minutes,  Nestle shrimp into pot, cover, and simmer for about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.

NOTES:

2 – Do I even need a note any more?  I prefer shallots’ less-astringent taste, and substituted 2 large shallots for a large onion.

3 – An option I definitely exercised.  For one thing, it’s more authentic to what’s served in the area.  Also, this is a once-a-year indulgence, so why not splurge for the crab?

 

 

4 thoughts on “Along Italy’s Pacific Coast

  1. sorry I hit “post comment” by mistake! LOL
    So, I was saying… I love mediterranean food so much especially italian, especially with seafood! so YUM!!!
    And…CONGRATS you are the winner of “It’s a Wrap! Best General Fiction, Contemporary and Romance I read in 2018! ” since The Mystery of Hollow Places was the best contemporary I read in 2018! Please email me (or DM me in GR, Twitter or Instagram) what prize you’d like. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, both for the compliment and for the prize! You’re spot-on about Mediterranean cuisine, which is why this journal has visited Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Morocco – then back to Spain again. Well, I’m off to help greet 2019. Enjoy your New Year’s celebrations as well!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s