The cure for a cold, dark night: Italian Fish stew with garlic butter and a few special sides

Winter nights pair best with hot fish stew

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Christmas Eve growing up always meant a big bowl of fish stew with a garlicky aioli and fresh Italian baguettes from Livonia, Michigan's favorite shop, Farmer Jack's, sliced into bread baskets. I loved the taste and smell of the bread as much as I got giddy from the aroma of garlic and herbs rising from the table. I'd slather aioli on a bread slice and drop it in the bowl, watching it soften and dissolve. 

Anticipation, baby.

So, from my Christmas past, an Italian fish stew menu as a present to you.

It's perfect for those winter nights when big spoons, croutons slathered in garlic butter, and some seasonal greens happily surround a pot of white fish, mussels, squid, herbs, and broth. 

Warmest holiday wishes to you.

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Italian Fish Stew

In your large EuroCAST soup pot or Dutch oven, add:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • One large red onion minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 2 stalks of celery minced 

Sauté until soft and slightly caramelized. Then add:

  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 pinch (or more to taste -- I add more) crushed red pepper flakes

Give this a good stir to incorporate the herbs. Then add: 

Lemon and orange are classic ingredients from the Mediterranean that do wonders with seafood stew, giving the flavor multiple layers and adding a mysterious giggle to the aroma. 

Lemon and orange are classic ingredients from the Mediterranean that do wonders with seafood stew, giving the flavor multiple layers and adding a mysterious giggle to the aroma. 

  • 1-28 oz. can of excellent quality Italian tomatoes in juice
  • 1-28 oz. can of excellent quality Italian tomato purée
  • 1 cup bottled clam juice
  • 1 cup fish stock (or 1 glass gorgeous, buttery white wine)
  • 1 large piece lemon peel and
  • 1 large piece orange peel

Let this simmer and bubble away on low for 30 minutes.

At this point you could cool the "soup" and refrigerate for another day.

When ready to finish the dish, bring the soup to room temperature and slowly heat through. As it begins to reach a very low bubble, add: 

  • 12 oz firm white fish cut into 3-inch pieces 
  • 12 oz scallops 
  • 12 oz squid tubes and tentacles 
  • 12 oz shelled, deveined shrimp 
  • 12 oz. mussels 
  • 12 oz little neck clams

This will take only moments to cook. Be careful not to overcook or else the fish will be chewy. And no one wants that. 

Ladle into warmed bowls (warming the bowls is a step you shouldn't skip) and top with croutons. 

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Make your croutons from slices of best-quality baguette slices. Put the slices on your stove-top in your biggest EuroCAST sauté pan. (You can use broil them in the oven, too, with your EuroCAST griddle pan, handle removed.) 

Put them out on the table in a basket and have my compound butter in bowls handy so people can slather the crouton in butter and drop the slice in the bowl. 

The compound butter features my stand-by garlic confit (find that recipe here), sharpened with a little bit of finely minced fresh garlic and rounded out with seasonal herbs of your choice. Just choose the herbs to complement the stew, so when you drop a slice into the broth and among the seafood, it's a party. 

To the olive-oil brushed bread slices, you can add a bit of grated mozzarella and some torn fresh marjoram. The croutons here already have the compound butter spread on them, too ... you can see the garlic confit just waiting for its winter fish stew swimming lesson.

To the olive-oil brushed bread slices, you can add a bit of grated mozzarella and some torn fresh marjoram. The croutons here already have the compound butter spread on them, too ... you can see the garlic confit just waiting for its winter fish stew swimming lesson.

Part of the joy of an Italian seafood stew is that you can see the seafood. Nothing shows abundance and nature better.

Part of the joy of an Italian seafood stew is that you can see the seafood. Nothing shows abundance and nature better.

And for sides: Cheese, pasta, nutty honeycomb, rapini

We like a simple pasta along with the fish stew. It reminds me of an Italian Christmas Eve dinner. 

My pasta has roasted celery chopped into it, along with briny and fresh olives (any Mediterranean ones), and a savory take on roasted pecans. For the pecans, you can use my recipe here and just switch out the cinnamon with some black pepper. The result is beautiful and amazingly logical: salty, peppery, crunchy, soft, seasonal. 

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I love the slightly bitter taste of a barely cooked rapini.

After I chop it and blanch it, I shock it in cold water to keep it bright green. After patting off excess water with a kitchen towel, I sauté the rapini in my EuroCAST sauté pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, put it in a bowl, and then add in a bit of diced jalapeño. I finish it with some chopped dried figs and croutons. Crunch, sweet, spice. Naughty and nice.

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NUTty honeycomb and cheese

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Cheese is a personal thing. I like all kinds and can go from sweetest buffalo mozzarella to the stinkiest cheese in the store. Put on your table what you know your guests will like -- and maybe a "dare" cheese. 

Lately I've loved putting out a nutty honeycomb with my cheeses. The one you see uses pepita, cashews, pine nuts, and almonds. 

Happy holidays

We're finishing up 2017 with gratitude. And a bit more wisdom. And a sweet desire to see our friends and loved ones more often. Pour a bowl of stew for the ones near you, and keep the others in your heart. 

And cook like it all matters. 

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Paul WardComment