My paternal grandfather grew up on Italy’s Adriatic coast in the small village of Senigaliia in Le Marche. I remember little of my grandfather as he passed away when I was only six years of age but I do have a few vivid memories – the smell of the cigars he smoked, the smell of concrete on his clothing and his fondness for long drives in the country. On Sunday afternoons, my two cousins, my brother and I would pile in the back seat of his old station wagon with the little Madonna hanging from the rearview mirror. Before we went anywhere, we had to say a little prayer to keep us safe and then off we would go – hours spent driving in the countryside where he would bring carrots for us to feed any horses we might encounter or to sail the little boats he made for us from sheets of newspaper or to stop and pick dandelion greens at water’s edge. In the back of his home, he built a beautiful pergola atop which grew grapevines he had brought from Italy. As kids, we always fought over the corner that had one magical vine of white grapes mingled with the red ones. Many a summer’s eve was spent around the table outside with family and friends.
Now as an adult, I smile when I think of his impact on my world. I love living in the country. I love long drives on Sundays and yes, I even have my own pergola under which to spend long lazy summer nights with family and friends. So it is with much excitement that my brother and I are planning a trip to visit his village and our cousins in Italy in the Fall. I have been reading articles and cookbooks to learn more about the cuisine of Le Marche. We have a few dishes in our repertoire but am thrilled by the opportunity to learn so much more about the diverse cuisine of Le Marche. The possibilities from this little coastal town surrounded by sea and mountains is tantalizing indeed.
A day spent leafing through cookbooks has left me wanting a dinner straight from the sea as I imagine our ancestors had after a long day on the water. This seafood brodetto is similar to a bouillabaisse or cacciucco (Tuscan version). I have read that the original version called for thirteen fish but suffice it to say that fewer will do. I used whatever looked freshest at the fish market. Substitute whatever strikes your fancy – add mussels or a firm white fish like monkfish or cod. Try not to skip the calamari as it adds a nice deep seafood flavor to the sauce as it simmers. This recipe also works wonderfully for a crowd – serve in a large pot with plenty of crunchy grilled bread and a simple salad (under the pergola of course!) Your family and friends will thank you.
Adriatic Seafood Brodetto
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced plus one clove for the bread
- 1 small or ½ large fennel bulb, cored and finely chopped, fronds reserved
- Pinch of crushed red pepper
- ½ pound calamari, cleaned; bodies cut into ½ inch rings; tentacles cut in half
- 1½ cups dry white wine, divided
- 1 (28-ounce can) chopped tomatoes with their juices
- 1 cup bottled clam juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- About 15 littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed
- ¾ pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- ½ pound scallops, halved horizontally
- Crusty Italian bread cut into thick slices
In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, fennel and crushed red pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes.
Add in the calamari. Cook, stirring occasionally until opaque, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook, stirring often, until almost all the wine has evaporated, about 15 minutes.
Add in the tomato puree, clam broth and remaining ½ cup of white wine and bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Cook until mixture is thickened, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Note: I usually go a bit easy on the salt at this stage, as the shellfish can sometimes be quite salty.)
Add the clams. Cover and cook until the shells have opened, about 5 to 8 mintues. Discard any that do not open. As the clams open, place in a bowl. Add in the shrimp and scallops and cook just until opaque, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Place the clams back into the pot and stir to combine.
Toast the bread slices and rub liberally with the remaining garlic clove. Sprinkle the brodetto with reserved fronds of fennel. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and serve with garlic toast. Buon appetito!