- A head of garlic, peeled but cloves left whole
- Shrimp, left whole, shells on
- Chile pepper
- Clams, live
- Mussels, live
- Dry white wine (about four cups when serving 8 people)
- One small, ripe tomato per pound of fish, chopped into fingernail-size pieces
- Octopus, cut into bite-size pieces
- Squid, cut into bite-size pieces
- Cuttlefish, cut into bite-size pieces
- Fish fillets (cut into postage-stamp-sized pieces)
- Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Parsley, chopped fine
- Basil, cut or ripped
- Mint, cut or ripped
- Slices of old bread (optional)
- Salt to taste
The fame of great European fish soups may have as much to do with tourism as it does with culinary prowess: We know about bouillabaisse because so many people have travelled through Marseilles, but odds are good that other cities on the Mediterranean make something just as good—if not better. Take lu brodettu from Salento, for example, which boasts extraordinarily clean and bright flavors as a result of its remarkably short cooking time. It's more a stew than a soup, the various fish producing most of the broth as they cook.
Virtually any fish can go into this but oily fish don't fair well here. Notice also the absence of scorpion fish (rascasse), the soul of bouillabaisse: The quick cooking time isn't enough for the rascasse to give off its gelatin to thicken the broth. The rest of the ingredients are up to you: Use what's fresh and delicious, and adjust amounts to suit the number of people you're cooking for.
Most of the "cooking time" involved in this soup is spent heating the empty pot. From the moment when the first ingredient goes into the pan and the time you turn off the flame to take the vessel to the table, expect only 5 minutes to pass.
- Take your heaviest pot and place it on the highest flame your stove can achieve. Heat the pot, empty, for 10 minutes. You'll need it blasting hot.
- Open the pink wine at the table. This is going to go faster than you think. Toss in the garlic, dry. The cloves will dance while they roast. Cook them a minute or two, without oil.
- Add the whole shrimp, scorching the shells. Add the clams, and add chile flakes to taste. When the clams begin to open and spit their juice, add the mussels and just enough white wine to steam them; the wine should make some noise if your pan is hot enough. Cover for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato, folding it in gently to combine and to ensure even cooking. Cover for 1 minute.
- Fold in the octopus, squid, cuttlefish, fish fillets and a generous glug of olive oil. Once the flesh of the cephalopods transitions from translucent to opaque, gently fold in the herbs and salt to taste. Turn off the heat and take the pot to the table.
- You might place a slice of old bread in the bottom of each bowl and ladle the fish soup over the top. Then pour the Salento rosato and wonder why the hell you ever thought that fish soup was so daunting.
This story appears in the print issue of August 2014.
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