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Sardinian Fish Soup

Zuppa di Pesce alla Sarda


Some people aren't aware that the island of Sardinia is part of Italy. Its cooking is rooted deep in history and the best way to describe its cuisine is just to call it simple - taking the offerings from the land and sea and using them in unadulterated ways. One example is the preparation of many fish dishes.

Sardinian waters have a great variety of seafood, including bass, mullet, eel, tuna, spiny lobster, laguna fish, trout, and cuttlefish. While it is impossible to duplicate a Sardinian fish stew exactly, I substitute whatever is available here and it still sings to me of Sardegna. A mix of four different types of seafood is a good rule to follow for this dish.


1 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 cup hot chicken broth

5 tablespoons Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

1/2 cup chopped fennel bulb, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped fennel leaves

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped fresh (about 3 medium tomatoes) or canned plum tomatoes

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 1/2 pounds mixed seafood (cleaned squid, lobster meat, tuna and swordfish steaks)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 slices Italian bread, toasted

Grated Pecorino Romano cheese


Soak the saffron threads in the hot chicken broth; set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the oil. Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the chopped fennel bulb and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the fennel leaves, parsley, tomatoes, and wine and stir well. Strain the chicken broth, pressing on the saffron threads to extract all the liquid, and add to the pot; discard the saffron. Stir well and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the squid into 1/2-inch rings. Cut the lobster, tuna, and swordfish into 1-inch cubes.

Add the squid to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the squid is barely al dente, still firm but not rubbery. Add the remaining seafood and cook for 10 minutes longer.

Place a bread slice in each of 6 soup bowls and carefully ladle the soup over the bread. Pass grated Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.

Note: It is not customary in Italy to put grated cheese on fish dishes, but here the salty taste nicely complements the flavors of the seafood.

This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company Inc., in 1991.


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