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La Vigilia and Crab Cioppino

The Feast of the Seven Fish… Christmas Eve was once a day of abstinence in the Catholic Church – no meat – and  La Vigilia as it is referred to in Southern Italy – came into being early on. Far from being a day of fasting, it is a day of feasting. Italians know how to turn a simple meal into an extravaganza!

We’re missing the Seven Fish up in North Jersey this year but we still wanted to uphold the tradition. Victor and I are home alone with Blanche, while Nonna is up with the rest of the family. But seven fish is a lot for two people – even for us. So… our Seven Fish tonight is Crab Cioppino! All Seven Fish in one pot. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time – and tonight I have my chance! This is the first time in 21 years we’ve spent Christmas by ourselves. While it’s not something I’d want to do every year, it’s been a lot of fun, so far.

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I was a bit concerned about finding dungeness crab being 3000 miles from home and considering there’s a massive algae bloom going on out west. There are high levels of domoic acid in the crabs and right now there is no crab fishing at all in California and Oregon. But the seafood gods were on my side and I was able to find frozen dungeness crab at our local fish market. The place was packed this morning when I went in – they take their Seven Fish really seriously around here – but there was my crab in their freezer case waiting for me.

Frozen. But t was some damned good crab!

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In fact, it was some of the best crab I’ve had in years! And it was frozen. Go figure. I know I’ll be heading back there for more. In fact, I’ll be heading back there for a lot of things. They had a great selection of all types of seafood.

The cioppino came out great. Really great. The broth was rich and flavorful with just a hint of heat. The seafood all cooked to perfection. Even the calamari was tender – and we all know what little rubber bands they can be. It really, really was good.

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There’s no way one can make cioppino for two. I made enough for dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow, and dinner for Steve and Marie to take home tomorrow night when they drop off Nonna. I’m stuffed – and already thinking about having more tomorrow!

To go along with the cioppino, I also baked rolls – Pane all’Olio – from Carol Field’s Italian Baker. It’s one of my most favorite bread books and every recipe I’ve made has come out perfect! These were no exception. A nice crust and a really tender crumb. The oil really makes a difference.

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Here goes the recipe. Hopefully I’ll get everything included… It’s been a work in progress…

Crab Cioppino

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bulb fennel, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 4 bottles clam juice
  • 3 28oz  cans San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 lbs dungeness crab legs and claws
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 lb clams
  • 1 lb Alaskan cod chunks
  • 1/2 lb calamari
  • 1 lb scallops
  • 1 jar anchovies
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes – more or less, to taste
  • Greek oregano
  • Salt & Pepper

Get a large pot.

Saute onion, fennel, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil until vegetables are quite wilted and beginning to get tender. Stir in the anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook until anchovies dissolve. Add one bottle red wine – I used a really good chianti – and bring to a boil. Simmer about 10 minutes and add the clam juice.

Add the canned tomatoes, breaking them up as you add each can.

Add about a teaspoon of Greek oregano, a pinch of salt and a hefty pinch of black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then simmer about 30 minutes.

At this point you can turn off the heat and save it for later or bring it to a boil and carry on…

Add the dungeness crab.

Add the clams.

Add the cod chunks.

Add the shrimp.

Add the scallops.

Finally, add the calamari.

From start to finish on adding and cooking the fish should be about 20 minutes.

Ladle into large bowls – discarding any unopened clams – and serve with crusty bread.

Forget the napkins. Have several kitchen towels available. This is one messy meal as half of it is eaten with your fingers.

And it is worth every spot and stain you can make!

 

 

 

 

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