The Year In Food » Fine Seasonal Eating

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Mom’s Cioppino


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.

  • elizabeth - This sounds really amazing. I had been thinking about making some gumbo, but you've definitely inspired me to branch out. I love the photo.ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - Thanks Elizabeth!ReplyCancel

  • tegan - almost everything in my family cookbook (from the Doyle side – there's actually a leprechaun atop a toadstool on the cover) has cream of mushroom soup in it. i do fondly remember cioppino, (savored with you in portland), by the way, turning me away from vegetarianism in my early twenties.ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - I remember that too! You were writing restaurant reviews, right? How funny.ReplyCancel

  • tegan - Yes, for a publication called PDX Stop Look & Listen that was doomed before the first issue came out. By the way, that soup looks downright fearsome, what with the claw coming out like that!ReplyCancel

  • AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: DUNGENESS CRAB STEAMED IN CHAMPAGNE AND BUTTER, WINTER FEASTS » The Year In Food - […] week I hosted a winter dinner party for friends. It was simple. Cioppino, adapted from my mom’s recipe. Those fancy Gilt Taste potatoes, roasted and tossed with an […]ReplyCancel

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