Despite the fact that my mother is no longer betrothed to the man who introduced us to cioppino, it is firmly entrenched in our family as an annual Christmas tradition. And it’s a good one, especially when paired with the kind of antics that only a mother and two daughters can achieve after a fair amount of champagne has been consumed.
Out here on the west coast we are at the peak of Dungeness crab season, and this is one of the best vehicles for showcasing the sweet, delicate crustacean, second only to simple steaming in a bath of butter, garlic, wine and herbs. I am mildly reluctant to share a recipe featuring canned tomatoes and canned tomato sauce, but what else is one supposed to do this time of year? The broth is warm, rich and savory, deep without being heavy, a lovely melange of wine, herbs and tomato. The seafood keeps it light, and between these two notes you get a perfect, complete dish: something both comforting and healthy.
My Mother’s Cioppino
Saute in 1/4 cup olive oil until soft in a really large pot:
2 chopped onions
6 cloves of minced garlic
1-2 stalks chopped celery (with leaves)
1 (24) ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 (8) ounce cans tomato sauce
2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
16 ounces chicken broth (may need more, depending on how much broth you’d like)
1/2 cup clam juice
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
Cover and simmer for about 1/2 hour.
Add seafood of your choice and simmer about 10 minutes:
I use (approximate measures):
2 dungeness crabs, cracked and cleaned
1/2 pound clams
1/2 pound mussels
1/2 pound shrimp
1/2-1 pound firm white fish cut into bite-sized pieces
Note: I threw in the white fish after the clams and mussels, and the shrimp last, because they only need a few minutes.