If you want to start an argument in the region known as Le Marche (The Marches) bring up the topic of brodetto.
As with many beloved Italian preparations, this rich fish stew has variations from one part of the province to the other. With all due respect to all those who have come before, I humbly present this very reputable version of an ancient, classic dish. I first experienced brodetto far from The Marches, down in the southern seaport town of Monópoli, with fish and shellfish harvested only an hour before they met the pot.
Yield: Serves 8
1/3 cup (75 mL) olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
A few threads saffron
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 cups (4 L) hot fish stock (see Notes)
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, plus 1/3 cup (75 mL) of their juice
3 lbs (1.5 kg) assorted fish (such as monkfish, halibut, red snapper, red mullet, sea bass or cod fillets), cut into large chunks
8 oz (250 g) mussels or clams, scrubbed and debearded; discard any with damaged shells
8 oz (250 g) large shrimp (fresh or thawed from frozen), peeled and deveined
¼ cup (50 mL) chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 thick slices rustic country style bread, brushed with oil, oven-toasted
1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, saffron and a pinch each of salt and pepper; cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Do not allow garlic to brown.
2. Stir in fish stock, wine, tomatoes and their juice. Increase heat and boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
3. Add fish chunks; cook another 5 minutes, increasing heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Add mussels and shrimp; cover and cook 2 minutes longer or until shellfish open and shrimp turns pink.(Discard any mussels or clams that do not open.) Stir in chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put a toast in the bottom of each bowl; ladle soup over and serve immediately.
Plan to make the fish stock early in the day. Ask the fishmonger for a good assortment of non-oily fish heads, bones, bits and pieces to equal about 2 lbs (1 kg). Put all of it into your biggest stockpot. You can also add shells and any trimmings from the fish used in this recipe. Roughly cut an onion (skin and all), an unpeeled lemon, a carrot and a celery stalk; add along with a handful of black peppercorns, a few smashed garlic cloves, a good grinding of salt, a couple of bay leaves and sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley. Cover with cold water (at least 10 cups/2.5 L) and bring to a boil; lower heat and let it bubble away for no longer than 30 minutes, skimming the foam that will occasionally rise to the surface. Strain through a fine sieve and discard solids. Pour into a clean saucepan and keep hot over low heat. This is also a very good stock for seafood risottos.