Zuppa di Pesce: the gift that keeps on being delicious

As a rule in our house, Matt and I decided that instead of spending money on each other’s birthdays on fancy presents, that our cooking skills be put to the test and we cook for one another. While both of us will end up in the kitchen, I love the idea that the other has to help bring this meal to fruition. It has made celebrating our birthday a much more delicious venture and a great gift idea!

In fact, we try to adhere to this rule for most holidays/special occasions. (Although I am fairly certain Matt will not always adhere to that rule and has gotten me something a little extra to go with my nice meal. He’s sweet like that.)

Last year for my 31st, I requested a steak (any cut as long as it was nicely marbled upon purchase), homemade macaroni and cheese, and oven-roasted brussel sprouts. I don’t think I need to say that my loving husband delivered a fantastic meal! For his 34th, he asked me for a seafood dish, to which I came up with Zuppa di Pesce. (And to those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s seafood in a nice tomato broth….any seafood you choose to put in there. Or, you know, that fish soup.) Add in homemade pasta and a nice loaf of crusty French bread, Matt was in seafood heaven.

(And after this past weekend, where Matt’s mom also got to experience the awesomeness of our Zuppa di Pesce, I’d say it’s time this recipe was shared!)

Since then, the need to continue perfecting our Zuppa di Pesce became a bit of a game. We tried different combinations of seafood. Sometimes there would be clams, other times bay scallops, maybe even a couple nice pieces of cod would make it in there, complete with the staple of shrimp at the ready. To be honest, I don’t think we have made this dish the same way twice, but that’s the beauty of a giant mixed seafood dish–you can always play with the combination depending on what’s on sale!

Also, remembering how I have talked about stock…why not a seafood stock? Trust me, it’s super easy to make and you can do it with the one thing that most of us dislike when we have to peel shrimp….the shells! Since Matt and I always buy raw frozen shrimp, when it comes time to defrost and peel for the meal we’re using it in, I save the shells in a Ziploc bag and once I accumulate a HUGE bag of them, in they go to a pot of boiling water for 20-30 minutes, allow it to cool, then strain into a Tupperware container and voila–stock!

If you don’t have stock, use clam juice or even fresh clams and mussels in the recipe; adding something with those briny, salty juices of the sea will make the dish, I promise!

Also, cooking with wine is key! If you don’t have a lot of stock or clam juice available, add a little extra white wine instead.

For this version of the recipe, I figured adding the whole gambit of seafood would help. You can always add or take away with the seafood. Just be sure to have some fun with it. (i.e., calamari, sea scallops, prawns, flounder, etc.–get creative!)

When cooking is your gift, it’s always nice to share it with those dear to you. Because instead of trinkets throughout the years, you get these wonderful memories of delicious dishes and the moments that accompany the meal.

Enjoy (with love).

~ Jenny V


Matt and Jenn’s Zuppa di Pesce

1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 dozen clams, cleaned

1 lb. bay scallops, rinsed

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

 2 cups white wine

2-3 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1-2 teaspoons Salt

1-2 teaspoons Pepper

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

1/2 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

1) In large cast-iron pot or large stock pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil to lightly coat bottom, then add diced onion. Once onion starts to soften, add in minced garlic. Cook both until softened and aromatics are released, probably about 5 minutes at most.

2) Add in cooking wine and bring pot up to medium-high heat to allow alcohol to cook out, roughly 10 minutes. Next, add in almost all of the seafood stock, can of tomato sauce, and seasonings. (To get the residual tomato sauce out of the can, use the reserved stock by pouring it in and swishing it around in the can, then pour into the pot.) Allow mixture time to meld and cook, about 15-20 minutes. (Note: if you’re making pasta, start the water around this step, probably about mid-way.)

3) Put in clams and mussels first as they will need the most time to cook and open up. When clams and mussels look like they’re starting to open up, add in shrimp and scallops to cook the last few minutes. Once shrimp is cooked through, serve with pasta, really good crusty bread, or both.

Sunday Dinner Memories….

While Matt is my main inspiration for posting recipes, he is not the only reason why I do this.

You see, when I was a little girl, not more than four or five, I remember Sunday dinner was always at my Grandma Parson’s house. (She was my great-grandmother and a force to be reckoned with on a culinary level!) I can still remember the way the smell of the pot roast and the sweetness of buttered carrots wafted through the air before I was even able to get my coat off and run into the kitchen to give her a hug. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that that smell *was* the initial hug, welcoming me into her home. It was just that good….and so was she.

I have memories of watching her pull that roast out, testing it to make sure it was done, then grabbing the salt and pepper in her arsenal and by instinct, seasoning perfectly. I’m sure in earlier years she had used them, but there was never a recipe in front of her. It was all by instinct, and the spread was glorious! Pot roast, creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and applesauce. And me, sitting next to her at the head of the table, greedily filling my plate with all the goodies.

My Grandma Parson passed when I was a sophomore in high school at the age of 98. She outlived her own daughter, my Grandma Shirley, by only a little over two months. My Grandma Shirley wasn’t a cook by any stretch of the means, more like the woman who would serve you Sanka using hot tap water. (I still love to think I get my sense of adventure and rebelliousness from her though, even though she couldn’t cook.)

I hadn’t thought about her too much until last year, as a bridal shower gift, my parents gave me my Grandma Parson’s recipe box. When my mom told me what it was, I think I sobbed for a good few minutes holding this treasure trove. It was more than just a box of recipes she collected. It was like receiving a piece of her in the process, a part that I could have in my home and visit whenever I needed guidance in the kitchen. And the best part? Her smell still lingers on those index cards; every time I open it, I’m that little girl running to greet Grandma Parson all over again while she has the oven ajar, preparing the drippings for gravy. Fun fact: the main picture on my blog is that recipe box.

I don’t mean to bore any of you with the details, but there is a point. My point being that with last night’s dinner, I felt my version of slow-cooker roast would have made her proud. As I prepped everything to go into the Crock Pot, including searing the roast in a cast-iron skillet, her guidance was ever-present. I liberally seasoned the meat, I tapped some salt into the cast-iron before searing, and as I put in all the ingredients to help develop those flavors in the Crock Pot, I understood her need for instinct in the kitchen.

I’m sure she would have been proud, because as I watched Matt take that first bite of roast, I felt like I was getting the opportunity to watch what face I used to make when I would eat my Grandma Parson’s roast: satisfaction. And I’m sure in those moments of love, she felt pride (like I felt) at being able to provide a delicious meal for her family.

Grandma Parson….this one is for you. Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Sunday Dinner Roast a la Crock Pot

2-3 pounds top round roast (you can use any kind you like, but I prefer the cuts of meat that are on sale and can always use a little love)

2 cans beef broth

1/2 – 3/4 bottle red cooking wine (don’t pour all of it in at once, only half – save that quarter to de-glaze your cast iron!)

3 stalks celery, sliced into snack size pieces

1 package pearl onions

1 large potato, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Steakhouse seasoning

1-2 bay leaves

Worcestershire Sauce (a few shakes will do it)

1 1/2 tablespoons Gravy Master

1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

1) In the Crock Pot, add all ingredients (including bay leaf) except for roast, butter, little bit of red cooking wine, and seasonings. Turn on high.

2) Turn on stove on high heat and place cast-iron down on flame. While cast-iron is warming up, season roast with salt, pepper, and steakhouse seasoning. Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the cast-iron and after a few minutes of letting it come up to temperature, place roast into screaming hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes to get a nice crust on it, then transfer into Crock Pot and push down into the juices. Use the little bit of red cooking wine I told you to leave out to de-glaze cast-iron, scrape gently, and transfer liquid into Crock Pot, pouring it over the roast.

3) Cover and cook on high for an hour, then on low for four to five hours. Flip roast halfway through to keep moisture throughout. Baste liberally every 30-40 minutes. When done, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

4) While resting, remove vegetables and transfer into a serving dish, remove bay leaves and toss in butter into Crock Pot with juices, allowing it to melt into drippings. Transfer drippings into gravy boat and serve over the vegetables and roast as you like it.