The year was 1921, the place Ellis Island. My maternal grandmother, single, arrives into port from Napoli on the ship Patria to be with her sister...
The Marche region of Italy is blessed with 180 km of fertile coastline, so the seafood available is deeply ingrained into Marche’s food culture. In a small marchigiano cookbook I purchased during our last trip to Italy, there are 10 different brodetto recipes listed, each from a different town in central Marche. Brodetto is a fish soup or stew found along the Adriatic seaside. As with many of Italy’s famous dishes, it was born out of necessity. The high-value fish caught was sold off to market and the small, less attractive chunks from the catch were used to create wonderful stews.
Each of the 10 fish stews has just a small variation between one town and the next, but it’s these variations that speak to the uniqueness of Italy’s small-town culture that exists even today. As was the case during these dishes’ creation, it’s important to use what’s fresh and in season at your local fish market.
I choose to make Brodetto alla senigalliese for this recipe. As it holds the town name, Senigallia, the birthplace of my grandfather, I can’t think of a better brodetto to prepare.
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 small onion, diced
• ½ cup white vinegar
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 3 cups fish broth (or substitute clam broth)
• 1 @ 6-oz can tomato paste
• 4 ½ lbs of assorted seafood (approximate)
• 1 lb squid ( ½ bodies, ½ tentacles), bodies sliced into rings and all rinsed in cold water and drained
• 1 lb Manilla clams and/or black mussels (I used some Pacific razor clams too)
• ½ lb shrimp, deveined and shelled
• 2 lbs mixed moderately firm fish (red mullet, sole, grouper, monkfish, snapper), cut into 2-inch chunks
• Chopped parsley for garnish
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet or small Dutch over medium heat. Add the diced onion and season with salt and pepper. Saute the onion until it becomes soft and translucent but not brown.
2. Add the prepared squid and sauté for 3-5 minutes until the squid becomes opaque.
3. Add the vinegar and let it evaporate a little. Then add the wine and also allow it to evaporate a little. Add the fish stock and bring to a gentle boil. And finally, add the tomato paste and dissolve it completely into the liquid.
4. Bring back to a gentle simmer, cover and let the squid cook in the liquid for 30 minutes.
5. Taste and correct the broth for final seasoning. Remember the remaining seafood will add additional saltiness. You want a relatively thin broth. If it’s too thick, add a little water.
6. Add the clams and/or mussels and let them cook until they just begin to open. Now add the shrimp and remaining fish and simmer until just cooked through.
7. Serve in warmed bowls with crusty bread and a little garnish of parsley.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they coauthor the blog OurItalianTable.com.