Seattle Homes & Lifestyles Magazine
Chipping In... Italian Style
WRITTEN BY RANDY ALTIG
PHOTOGRAPHS BY HANK DREW
If someone had told me this would be my year to travel the globe, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s just what I’ve done. From hiking in Hawaii and shopping in Paris to designing in Shanghai, cooking in Tuscany and walking Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, this has been a memorable year. As I think back on its highlights, however, one summer day in San Francisco, eating fresh cioppino from warm sourdough bread bowls with my family, definitely stands out. Walking along the wharf, I was awestruck by the bounty and beauty of the gifts of the sea. Just off the boats, the catch of the day—fresh fish both large and small, and many varieties of shellfish—lay in ice wagons, glittering in the sun like precious jewels. At that moment, I realized I was in the American motherland of cioppino, the popular Italian soup made from a perfect mixture of fresh chard, onions, tomatoes, fish and wine.
“I realized I was in the American motherland of cioppino, the popular Italian soup made from a perfect mixture of fresh chard, onions, tomatoes, fish and wine.”
1) Roll shiny silverware in white napkins, then garnish them with sprigs of rosemary and lavender.
2) Set the table with mismatched wine glasses and put bread sticks in vases.
3) Fill antique jars with fragrant late-season herbs—fennel, sage, lavender and rosemary.
The soup gained fame here in the late 1800s, when Italian fishermen who had settled in the North Beach neighborhood used recipes from their homeland—and the day’s leftovers—to make extra money by feeding the fishermen and local residents. In California, some thought the name derived from the heavily Italian-accented cry of San Francisco’s wharf cooks as they asked fishermen to “chip in” some of their catch to the collective soup pot at the end of the day. But the name actually comes from ciuppin—meaning “to chop” in the Ligurian dialect of the Italian port city of Genoa—which describes the stew-making process. Fishermen cut up various fish and shellfish and threw them in a pot with fresh vegetables such as carrots, peppers and onions. Whatever the origin of its name, cioppino has evolved into a seafood-lovers’ favorite dish. When making this fisherman’s classic, I like to cook the seafood in a broth made of extra virgin olive oil, diced tomatoes and white wine. I leave most of the shellfish in their shells, including the crab, which I serve halved or quartered. As a result, the dish requires not just a spoon but also a crab fork and crackers. Fresh halibut cut into cubes is always my standard, but you can personalize your recipe by adding your favorite fish.
Whether dishing it up for a small group or a crowd, I like to serve cioppino family style. I place the pot in the middle of the table and ladle generous portions into large white bowls, where the shellfish (in their shells), vegetables and tomato-based stock make for beautiful color and high visual drama at the table. When I was in Italy earlier this year, I noticed that most fine restaurant tables were dressed with perfectly pressed cloths, usually of starched linen in pale green or pink instead of traditional white, but for this meal I like my table to look a little more relaxed. So I use a big red-and-whitechecked cloth consistent with the looks sported by most of Italy’s trattorias. I roll shiny silverware in white napkins and tie them with twine, then set the table with mismatched wine glasses and put bread sticks in vases or thickly sliced artisan bread in small baskets. For a decorative way to add to the anticipation of the meal, I fill antique jars with my favorite late-season fresh herbs—rosemary, fennel, lavender and sage—and casually place them on the table with votive candles in red, green and white (the colors of the Italian flag). Then I light the candles, pour the wine and serve the cioppino — and in no time, my guests feel the magic of la bella Italia.