Opa's Cioppino

Rev:  0.20; Last revised:  05-Jan-06

This fragrant and spicy soup is based upon the traditional Italian Cioppino recipe.  I started with that and extended it with some features of the wonderful Bouillabaisse of France's Provencal region.

The most distinguishing characteristic of a bouillabaisse is not the fish, because all fish stews and soups have fish, but the unique flavoring derived from saffron, fennel seeds, and orange zest.

To support the strong, rich flavors, I've added not only fennel seeds, but also whole fennel bulb.  For color and texture I've added finely cubed green peppers, and topped it off with braised hot or sweet Italian sausage.

[Changes to consider: don't braise the sausage, use combined seafood weight]

Heat a large wide bottom pot over high heat with butter and add the sausage.  Most any presentation will do.  Cutting them into wheels is fine, although I prefer to halve and skin them first.  Stir and toss until brown and add the onion and fennel.  Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes to soften the vegetables.

Add tomato, green pepper, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, basil, orange zest, and saffron.  Once garlic starts to release its aroma, cover with fish or clam broth.  Reduce heat to medium and slowly simmer for 20 minutes.

[If using] Soak clams in cold water and scrub to rid them of any sand. Discard any that donít close or are broken.  Add to soup and cover for 10 minutes.

During the last couple of minutes add the cut up fish and stir in gently without breaking the fish.  Once all the clams open, check the seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper. 

Serve in shallow bowls with large croutons that have been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove.  Or enjoy slices of fresh sourdough dipped in the broth.