No matter how many places I go around the world, I can’t find a better place to live than the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco is notorious for stealing the hearts of its many visitors, and I am no exception. When I first came here in the mid-80′s, I fell in love with it. Its breathtaking beauty and diverse culture simply blew my mind away. It made me feel like I just came “home” and I belonged. Two decades later, I came back to where I left my heart. Now, I am a proud Northern Californian and I am thrilled to present Cioppino, one of my favorite seafood stews which originated right in my backyard.
To make this amazingly delicious stew, I first heat a ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a big cast iron pot and sauté 2 onions (chopped), 4 cloves garlic (minced) & 2 green peppers (chopped). Then I add 3 lbs vine ripe tomato (chopped), ½ cup dry oloroso sherry, 4 Tablespoons tomato paste, 2 bay leaves, 1 Tablespoon sea salt, some fresh ground black pepper, 4 Tablespoons fresh parsley (minced) & 2 teaspoons fresh oregano (minced) and simmer for 30 minutes. Next, I add 1 lb clams in the shell & 2 crabs (about 2 lbs) to the pot and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Then I add 1 lb halibut fillet, 1 lb squid & 1 lb prawns (shelled) and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Finally, I sprinkle some fresh parsley leaves and serve the seafood stew in a bowl.
The tomato base sauce of the Cioppino has great balanced flavors with some tangy kick to it. When the shell fish and halibut get added to the base sauce, tanginess subdues and sweetness gradually emerges to the stew. To enhance this great flavor profile, I am pairing it with 2009 Juno Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Crisp and light bodied, this bone-dry white wine has has great tropical notes with guava and baked apples taste on the palate. It beautifully highlights the mild sweetness of the shell fish and halibut in the delicious tomato sauce. I love that this wine is refreshing, yet it isn’t too acidic to throw off the balance of delicate Cioppino. Yum.
So, how do the San Franciscan Cioppino and South African Chenin Blanc sound to you on summer nights? If some of you feel too hot to cook anything, I have an alternative solution . Come to North Beach, “little Italy” of San Francisco, and walk into Rose Pistola on Columbus Avenue. They have one of the best Cioppino in town. You will love it as much as my recipe. Just don’t be surprised to see your hearts staying here. Enjoy!