Zuppa di pesce

Zuppa di pesce alla napoletana (Neapolitan Fish Stew)

In Campania, piatti unici, Soups by Frank25 Comments

Italy, being a rather slender peninsula, is a country where the sea is rarely too far away. And, of course, the products of the sea play a major role in its cuisine. And so it is not surprising that zuppa di pesce, or fish soup, is a dish that you will find almost everywhere in many guises. In Tuscany they call their version of it cacciucco, and on the Adriatic coast, they call it brodetto, or ‘little broth’, and you will find variations of it from Venice all the way down to Abruzzo. (Further down the coast in Puglia, the name reverts to zuppa di pesce.) Although called a soup, it is actually more like a stew.

Zuppa di pesce is said that have been invented by fisherfolk, who in the days before refrigeration needed a convenient way to prepare all the unsold bits and pieces of their daily catch. So why not throw them all together in a pot to simmer with some aromatics and water or, if you could afford, white wine? When the tomato became a central part of Italian cooking, especially in the south, many local variations of fish soup turned various shades of red.

The Neapolitan zuppa di pesce is perhaps the simplest and purest of all the fish soups in Italian cookery it is nothing more than a variety of seafood simmered briefly in a simple marinara sauce. But don’t let the simplicity fool you—the taste of this dish is incredible.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6
For the tomato base:

For the seafood (in the order they should be added to the pot):

  • An assortment of mollusks, such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • An assortment of firm-fleshed fish of your choice, such as monkfish cut into large chunks
  • Shrimp, crayfish and/or sea scallops
  • Clams and/or mussels

Directions

Begin by sautéing a few slightly crushed garlic cloves in abundant olive oil. If you like, you can add a bit of peperoncino to sauté in the olive oil along with the garlic. When the garlic begins to give off its aroma and is just barely beginning to brown, you add tomato—ideally, the pulp of fresh, perfectly ripe San Marzano tomatoes, but otherwise use best quality canned tomatoes that you have run through the largest holes of a food mill. Season with salt and pepper (going light on the salt since the shellfish will be salty) and finely chopped parsley, then allow the tomatoes to simmer for about 10 minutes or so, or until they begin to reduce and reach a saucy consistency. Then add a splash of white wine.

It is now time to add your seafood, starting with the varieties that take the longest to cook, then progressively adding those that take less time. The origins of the fish soup being what they are, the choice of seafood is pretty loose. But the Neapolitan version will almost always include one or more kinds of mollusks such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, clams or mussels or both, and a variety fish with fins. The fish was, as mentioned, the local catch, so many local varieties of fish, most of them small and some quite bony but flavorful, can be thrown into the pot. Larger fish can be cut into serving or even bite-sized pieces. The most typical fish of all is scorfano, called ‘scorpion fish’ in English. (Scorfano is also typical of the Tuscan cacciucco and some of the Adriatic brodetti.) Triglie—red mullet—is also a common addition. But any firm-fleshed fish that lends itself to simmering will do: monkfish, snapper, catfish, sole. Last night I added some cut up halibut, and it was very nice. Although less typical of this kind of fish soup, sea scallops and shellfish are make nice additions. The more variety, the better the soup they say.

You always begin with the mollusks, since they will take some time to cook. With very young calamaretti (baby cuttlefish) let them simmer about 10 minutes before you add any other fish. Octopus or mature squid (which you should cut up into bite-sized pieces) will take much longer, usually about 30 minutes, although you can sometimes find pre-cooked octopus that only needs heating up. Then add you fish and let that cook for another five to ten minutes, depending on the size. Then, finally, add the clams and mussels and simmer them until they open—if, that is, you are confident that they are free of sand. If not, steam them separately and add them at the very last moment, along with their liquid, strained to eliminate any sediment, just long enough for them to heat through. Sprinkle with a bit more finely chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Measurements are not particularly important in this rustic dish. The amount of tomato will greatly influence the end taste. Some recipes call for a lot of tomato—equal in weight to the seafood—but most call for about half as much by weight. The ratio among the various kinds of seafood is pretty free as well, but I find a good rule of them is to use about as much fish as other sorts of seafood. Or you can eliminate the fish altogether, and just use the mollusks and some shellfish like shrimp or crab, in which case you will have zuppa di pesce senza spine, or ‘boneless’ fish soup.

Zuppa di pesce is usually served with toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and sometimes drizzled with a bit of olive oil. The bread is also wonderful fried in olive oil—but that can be a bit heavy for modern tastes. I often just use bread to sop up the wonderful juices, an act that Italians call fare la scarpetta, meaningto make the little shoe’ (see Glossary for details).

Notes on Zuppa di Pesce

There are some minor variations among the recipes, mostly concerning when to add what. Some recipes call for adding the squid and/or octopus directly to the garlic soffritto, before the tomatoes. Some call for adding the wine either before the tomato or at the same time. And the parsley can be added at almost any time, along with the garlic at the very beginning, or at very end. And, depending how pervasive you want the garlic to be, you can use it slightly crushed (my favorite) or chopped or sliced. A few recipes call for onion instead of, or in addition to, the garlic—but onion is more typical of the northern types of fish soup.

It probably goes without saying, but any leftovers make a lovely sauce for spaghetti or linguine, not unlike the well-known dish spaghetti or linguine allo scoglio.

As mentioned, there are many varieties of fish soup to be found all over the country. You could write a book (or a blog) just about all the different versions. I plan to blog at least on the most famous of these, like cacciucco alla livornese and the broèto from Venice, in the future.

And fish soups are not just limited to Italy. There are versions from all over the Mediterranean and beyond. The most famous one of all, without a doubt, is the wonderful Provençal bouillabaisse. The Greeks have their kakavia and the Spanish their sopa de pescado y marisco, and various fish soups can be found all over Latin America. And, of course, let’s not forget the cioppino from San Francisco.

 

Zuppa di pesce alla napoletana (Neapolitan-Style Fish Stew)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Zuppa di pesce alla napoletana (Neapolitan-Style Fish Stew)

Ingredients

    For the tomato base:
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 peperoncino (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
  • Olive oil
  • A can of best quality San Marzano tomatoes, passed through a food mill
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • A splash of white wine
  • For the seafood:
  • An assortment of mollusks, such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • An assortment of firm-fleshed fish of your choice, such as monkfish cut into large chunks
  • Shrimp, crayfish and/or sea scallops
  • Clams and/or mussels

Directions

  1. Begin by sautéing a few slightly crushed garlic cloves in abundant olive oil. If you like, you can add a bit of peperoncino to sauté in the olive oil along with the garlic.
  2. When the garlic begins to give off its aroma and is just barely beginning to brown, add tomato. Season with salt and pepper (going light on the salt since the shellfish will be salty) and finely chopped parsley, then allow the tomatoes to simmer for about 10 minutes or so, or until they begin to reduce and reach a saucy consistency. Then add a splash of white wine.
  3. Add your seafood, starting with the varieties that take the longest to cook, then progressively adding those that take less time: Begin with the mollusks. With very young calamaretti (baby cuttlefish) let them simmer about 10 minutes before you add any other fish. Octopus or mature squid (which you should cut up into bite-sized pieces) will take much longer, usually about 30 minutes.
  4. Then add the fish and let that cook for another five to ten minutes, depending on the size.
  5. Then add shrimp or scallops, if using, along with the clams and mussels and simmer them until they open.
  6. Sprinkle with a bit more finely chopped parsley and serve immediately.
http://memoriediangelina.com/2010/05/29/zuppa-di-pesce-alla-napoletana/

Comments

  1. My family in Italy wasn’t big with seafood, maybe because we weren’t so close to the coast. Just fish and calamari for the most part, but I’ve been eating much more seafood these past few years, so this looks SOO good!

    I will definitely be trying this dish! Grazie e buon natale!

  2. I used to go to Italy twice a year for 3 weeks on business. I went with a retired engineer named Duilio Bianco (“Dewey”) as interpreter. We would make the circuit of our customers in Milan, Genoa and elsewhere, always finishing in Naples. Then we’d take a day boat to Capri, hire a car to go to a restaurant way up the hill and sit on the terrace looking at the Bay of Naples and enjoying Zuppa di Pesce, a good wine and lemoncello. An occasional cat would join us. As much as I love this dish, it occurred to me looking at various seafood in my freezer that I had never made it myself. Found your recipe and will give it a go. I’ll make allowance for the frozen calamari & baby scallops but am going with fresh on the rest.

  3. My father Erasmo, born 1898 in Gaeta worked on the fishing boats
    when he left school at age 12. He came to the U.S.A. in 1916, 18 years
    old. He often spoke of how his mother made the zuppe la pesce.
    He often made it for us kids–unbelievable! My wife, who is Irish descent (an O’brien) makes it now since my father passed on. He
    taught her how to make it.

  4. This sounds delicious. Making it Christmas Eve using lobster tails in addition to ther ingredients. When do I add them, they are abut 5 oz each.

    Thank you

  5. Pingback: Zuppa dei valdesi (Piedmontese Bread Soup) | Memorie di Angelina

  6. Pingback: San Francisco's Cioppino, an Italian-American Classic | Memorie di Angelina

  7. What memories you brought back for me. I was learning Italian in the Uiversita di Perugia in 1962 and made a road trip in a Renault Dauphine with 2 friends (one English, the other American)to Monaco to see the Grand Prix. We took the coast road and ate Zuppa di Pesce or Cacciucco for lunch and dinner every day (given the chance I'd probably have eaten it for breakfast too!) I became completely addicted – and now you've revived the craving! Got to go now, I have to call my travel agent urgently! Ciao (e grazie!)

  8. My husband and his family are from Benevento. We have moved away from family and are unable to be with them this Christmas. I will use your Zuppa Di Pesce recipe this year. Buon Natale!

  9. Mmm, this is something that I absolutely must make this summer, it's a perfect rustic dish.

  10. This fish soup is making my mouth water. I would love to go to Italy and just have different kinds of fish soup for every meal and toasted bread of course!

  11. I just made a fish soup. This sounds way better than the one I made. I will gladly move in with you and be your official food tester. All of the Italian Popes and nobility had food testers, you want to be authentic don't you Frank?

  12. Oh you make me miss home now :o( and making me hungry! my mom's brodetto is amazing, too bad that I cannot find the same fishes here. The Napoletana version is similar and beautifully appetizing! I want to dip some bread in that tomato!

  13. what a great seafood dish, I agree with the tomatoes, all I ever use are San Marzano Tomaotes, they definitely make a difference.
    More people need to make this at home to see just how easy it is to have such a fantastic meal!
    thanks for sharing!

    your images are just incredible!

  14. just once, I would love to sit at your table, even if not invited, to gawk and marvel … this has to be some fine eating Frank, I like the feel of the dish and know I would love its depth of taste

  15. This is a family favorite and with no recipe, we have been making this for generations with whatever fish is at hand. You have me wishing it was simmering on my stove right now.

  16. Frank – I could eat at your home every night. All your dishes sound so authentic and flavorful. This one, no exception.
    Lori Lynn

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