Legend has it that Italian fishermen created San Francisco’s famous seafood stew called cioppino by making dinner with what they had left at the end of a long day at sea. A rich, rustic, warming meal, it’s meant to be shared with friends on a cool, foggy night. Because what was in the nets determined what went in the pot each night, there are many different versions. Our version of cioppino calls for fennel and tons of shellfish, but use four pounds of whatever fish makes you happy. Tradition dictates a chunk of sourdough to sop up the broth after the seafood is cleared. That’s fine, but this broth is so good you’re likely to just pick up the bowl and chug it. Go for it.
Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the pancetta and red pepper flakes and cook until the fat renders and the pork is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion and fennel and cook until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Grate the garlic into the pot, stir and cook for a minute until fragrant. Push everything to the side of the pot and spread the tomato paste in the middle. Cook until it browns, stirring to prevent it from turning black, and then spread it out to brown it again. Do this a couple of times, about 3 minutes total, then stir the tomato paste and vegetables together. Add the white wine, stirring with a wooden spoon to release any bits stuck to the bottom. Boil until almost all of it evaporates, about 5 minutes. Use your hand to crush the canned tomatoes and add them along with their juice to the stew. Then add stock, thyme, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium to maintain a slow boil. Cook until it reduces by half, about an hour. Discard thyme and bay leaves.
Rinse the mussels, scrubbing if necessary, and pulling off any beardy bits. Toss any that are cracked or do not close all the way into the trash. Gently stir mussels into stew, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Bring the stew back to a slow boil, stir in shrimp and fish, and cover the pot. After about 2 minutes, just as the shrimp start to run pink, add the calamari and cover. Bring the stew back to a simmer and remove it from heat when the shrimp is completely pink and the seafood is cooked but still tender, about 1 minute. Discard any mussels that do not open. Fold in the chopped herbs and garnish with whole parsley leaves. Serve your cioppino with crusty sourdough bread.
If ocean sustainability is important to you, please check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of recommended seafood purchasing do’s and don’ts at www.seafoodwatch.org.
Freeze leftover stock in small zipper bags or ice cube trays so you can use it on the fly to add flavor to soups and sauces.