California Shellfish Stew

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This zesty main-dish soup is a cousin of the Mediterranean fisherman’s cioppino and an even more distant relative of the great French bouillabaisse. You can vary the shellfish used—lobster, Dungeness crab, squid, and octopus will all work nicely—but do not try to find a substitute for the Zinfandel.

Start with a slice of pâté, follow with a good green salad, and serve plenty of crusty bread for mopping up the juices.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons best-quality olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely diced
  • 6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cups Fish Stock
  • 2 cups Zinfandel 1 can (2 pounds, 3 ounces) peeled plum tomatoes, drained
  • tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 8 mussels
  • 8 small Littleneck or Cherrystone clams
  • 8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¾ pound bay scallops
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy soup pot over low heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and garlic and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. Add the fish stock, Zinfandel, and tomatoes and raise the heat.
  3. Stir in the basil, thyme, and bay leaf, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes with the stirring spoon. Taste and correct the seasoning. (If you wish to complete the soup through this step the day before serving, it will keep and improve upon refrigeration.)
  5. Scrub the mussels and clams well and debeard the mussels. Place them in a heavy pot, add water to a depth of 1 inch, cover, and set over high heat. As they steam open, remove the mussels and clams one by one with a slotted spoon and reserve. Discard any shellfish that haven’t opened after 5 minutes. Freeze the shellfish juices for your next batch of fish stock.
  6. Rinse the shrimp and scallops and pat dry.
  7. At 5 minutes before serving the stew, bring the tomato and wine mixture to a boil. Drop in the shrimp and scallops, then the clams and mussels in their shells. Add the parsley, stir well, and remove from the heat. Let stand, covered, for 1 minute.
  8. Ladle the stew into heated bowls, dividing the seafood equally, and serve immediately.