Cioppino, a luscious tomato broth loaded with fish and seafood, makes an impressive winter meal for company…and once you get over the fear factor, it’s actually quite easy to prepare!

1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded and bulb cut lengthwise into 6 wedges

1 medium onion quartered

3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California

1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in juice

1 ½ cups water

1 cup full-bodied red wine such as Zinfandel or Cabernet

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

1 pound skinless fillets of thick white-fleshed fish such as halibut or cod, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 pound cultivated mussels

Pulse fennel, onion, and garlic in food processor until coarsely chopped. Heat oil in 6-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then stir in chopped vegetables, bay leaves, thyme, red pepper flakes, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, covered, over medium heat stirring once or twice, until veggies begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, water, wine, and clam juice and boil, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in seafood and cook, uncovered until fish is just cooked through and mussels open wide, 4-6 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain unopened after 6 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Makes 4 servings.

PHO (adapted from

Pho is a Thai twist on beef-noodle or chicken-noodle soup, with an earthy, fragrant broth and loads of delicious noodles…perfect for a cold winter’s night!

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon mild honey

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (Nam Pla), divided

1 pound flank steak

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 large shallots, thinly sliced (1 cup)

1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled ginger

1 ½ teaspoons Thai green-curry paste (available in Asian section of most grocery stores)

1 ¾ cups reduced-sodium organic beef broth

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch strips

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces

¾ pound dried Asian egg noodles

Fresh cilantro and mint for garnish

Mix soy, honey, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and ¼ teaspoon salt in shallow baking dish. Add steak and turn to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. While steak marinates, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add shallots, stirring occasionally, and cook about 8 minutes. Add ginger and curry paste and cook 1 minute more. Add broth and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in lime juice and remaining fish sauce and salt. Cover and keep warm. Heat grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat , lightly oil, then grill steak, turning once, about 8 minutes total. Transfer steak to cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing. “Resting” meat before slicing helps to keep it moist and tender. Meanwhile, toss bell pepper and scallions in remaining tablespoon of oil and grill in grill pan or skillet until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. While steak rests, cook noodles in large pot of boiling unsalted water until al dente, 4-7 minutes. Drain well then add to vegetables and toss together. Divide noodles among 4 deep bowls and top with broth. Cut steak into thin slices across the grain and serve on top of noodles. Garnish with fresh mint and cilantro.

Remember, you can’t go wrong…or at least TOO wrong…when you play around with the ingredients, textures, or spiciness of soups! As you experiment you’ll get a better feel for the kinds of substitutions and additions that work well with a recipe. I rarely make exactly the same soup twice! Sometimes I cook the vegetables until they’re very tender and then I puree them into the body of the soup. Other times I leave at least a portion of the vegetables al dente to give the finished soup some “bite”. I like to mix up the kind of grain or pasta I add to my soups as well…farro has a chewy, nutty taste and texture while whole wheat couscous has a softer taste and texture…sometimes I feel like slurping my noodles out of my soup and other times I prefer small easy to eat with a spoon pastas. The variations are endless…and winter is such a lovely time to be warm and cozy in the kitchen! Happy cooking!

© 2011 Copyright   Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

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