There are so many tall tales in the archives of the origin of the famous San Francisco specialty cioppino, it is hard to know which one might have a grain of truth. What I suspect is that cioppino is related to the cacciucco of Livorno and the fish stews of the Friuli region of Italy. These are made with a red wine base. This ragout, which we serve over soft or baked polenta, is from the Dalmatian coast. For cioppino, sprinkle the ragout with chopped parsley and serve with slices of grilled French bread rubbed well with garlic.
Obviously this dish can be expanded to serve 8. The sauce is a good, rich basic marinara with some extra heat and fennel. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. You may make the sauce, make two portions of ragout one night, and then, a day or so later, make spaghetti marinara with the rest.
Cook the crabs in a large pot of boiling salted water about 12 minutes. Drain and chill in ice water. To clean the crabs, remove and discard top shell, gills, and tiny tail piece, but save any crab “butter” from the top shell and add to the sauce. Wash the body under cold water. Remove the claws. Cut the body into quarters. Crack the claws with a mallet for easier eating.
Heat the wine and fish fumet in a large pan over high heat. Add the crabs or lobster, mussels, and clams. Cook covered, 2 minutes. Add the scallops, shrimp and any optional fish; cook 2 minutes more, shaking the pan once or twice. Add the squid and Triestina sauce. Heat through and simmer until all is cooked, about 2 minutes more. Serve the ragout over soft or baked polenta. For cioppino, ladle into wide bowls and serve with grilled French bread rubbed well with garlic.
© 1998 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.