Fish soup is one of the most ancient dishes of the Mediterranean, and in Italy, every coastal town has its own traditional version. The recipes vary from family to family, and with the varieties of fish. The names will vary; on the Tuscan coast it is known as cacciucco, on the Adriatic side, brodetto (little broth), and elsewhere, zuppa de pesce (soup of fish).
Back when I was in the restaurant business, I learned to make fish stew from reading Marcella Hazan’s valuable volume “The Classic Italian Cookbook.” Starting with several fish heads, I would cook the heads in a skillet, pass them thru a food mill, and complete the stew with clams, mussels and shrimp. Garlic, tomatoes, onions, olives and capers added to the flavorful broth, which varied with the type of fish.
The inspiration for Italian Fish Stew comes from Eating Well magazine. The recipe uses one pot, and a pantry staple, spicy tomato sauce. A firm -fleshed fish like halibut or swordfish work best. Although our New England ocean fish vary from the Italian Adriatic fish, in this classic preparation, the fish becomes a succulent and satisfying dish.
Italian Fish Stew
- 2 cup stalks celery diced or about ½chopped celeriac
- ½ medium red onion cut in half and thinly sliced
- 1½ cups thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes or other yellow-fleshed potatoes
- 2 cups Puttanesca Pasta & Pizza Sauce *
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup green olives pitted and sliced
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- ¼ cup ¼chopped fresh parsley
- 1 pound swordfish or halibut about ¾ inches thick
- Pat the fish dry. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper and set aside.
- In a large skillet, combine the tomato sauce, celery, onion, olive oil, and green olives. Toss to mix well. Layer the potato slices over the vegetables and cover them completely. Cover the skillet and cook over medium to medium-high heat. The mixture should just be simmering. Shake the pan from time to time to prevent from sticking, but do not stir.
- After about 20 minutes, the potatoes should start to soften. Place the fish over the potatoes, cover the skillet and cook until the fish just cooks and starts to flake, about 10 – 15 more minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
*Puttanesca is a derivation of puttana, which literally translated means “lady of the night”, and is aptly named for an Italian spicy tomato sauce traditionally made from anchovies, garlic, olives and capers. This dish can be made with any tomato sauce, just add garlic, capers and olives and hot pepper flakes to suit your taste.