Saturday, January 1, 2011

Brodetto dei Pescatori di Abruzzo (Abruzzese Fishermen's Stew)

Back in April 2008, I posted the very first recipe on Chef Bolek, which was a recipe for Brodetto alla Pecarese.  This recipe was not just any recipe; instead, it represented a few firsts for me.  It was the first time that I took several recipes for a dish and tried to navigate my way through them -- taking bits from each one -- to create a dish that I could call my own.  It was also the first dish that I "mastered," with some (including myself) calling it my "signature dish."  Finally, it was the first time that I actively researched  a recipe so that I could understand the various ingredients and cooking processes for the recipe (as opposed to simply following a recipe).  Looking back over the past two and one-half years, I've seen that my cooking skills (and blogging skills) have grown a lot.  And, for the first recipe of this new year, I decided that I would return to where it all started.

Generally, a brodetto is a stew made by fishermen along the coast of the Adriatic Sea in cities like Venice and regions like Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche and Abruzzo.  Brodetto was the food of the poor; it was made by fishermen from the catch that was not good enough for the market or by their wives from the fish and seafood that did not sell at the market.  Brodettos were not considered the food of high society or even the middle class.  It was the food of the working poor, and, as is often the case, that food can often rival the food prepared in the finest restaurants.

Perhaps the fact that Brodetto was basically considered "peasant fare" is what attracted me to this dish, but it could also be the fact that Brodetto can vary significantly from region to region.  Fishermen used to use whatever fish, shellfish or other catch was on hand, as well as other local ingredients.  For example, in Abruzzo, fishermen would add a lot pepperoncino or crushed red pepper flakes, because peppers are used a lot in the local cuisine.  Many recipes for Abruzzese brodettos also call for the use of saffron, because farmers cultivated the flower in the fields near the capital of Aquila.  While I usually include saffron in the brodetto, it is to acknowledge a local ingredient.  I recognize that most fishermen do not have ready access to such an ingredient.

When making brodetto, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First, a Brodetto uses a couple types of fish and a couple types of other seafood, such as shellfish or squid; however, when you are only making it for yourself or for a couple of people, I use one type of fish and a couple types of other seafood, usually shrimp and squid.  Second, you can use either whole fish or fillets.  I generally prefer to use fillets because it is easier to cook the fish along with the other seafood.   Finally, I try to use a white wine that from the region in which I am basing the brodetto.  In Abruzzo, that would be a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo; however, that wine can sometimes be hard to find.  So, any dry white wine -- or for that matter -- any white wine from an area close to the region would be okay to use.  When making this recipe, I used an Orvieto, which is a white wine from the neighboring Umbria region.



BRODETTO DEI PESCATORI DI ABRUZZO (Abruzzese Fishermen's Stew)
A Chef Bolek Original
                                                                 Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 pound of fish (such as red snapper, bluefish, turbot and/or tilapia)
1/2 pound of shrimp, preferably U-12 or 16/20 count shrimp

1/3 pound of cleaned squid (both heads and body)
1 can of whole tomatoes (canned with tomato puree and basil)
1 can of water
1 cup of a dry white wine (such as a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo or Orvieto)
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 medium sized shallot, diced
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
1 large pinch of saffron stands
1 tablespoon of fresh basil, chiffonade

2 bay leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Ground peppercorns, to taste
Baguette, sliced


Directions:
1.  Saute onions and garlic.  Pour the olive oil into a pot and heat to medium. Add the onion and shallots and cook for about ten minutes until the onions are translucent.  Then add the garlic. Continue to saute the onions, shallots and garlic for about two to three minutes more.  

2.  Add tomatoes, liquid and spices.  Add the whole tomatoes and, with a potato masher, work to break up the tomatoes.  Then add the white wine and the water.  Mix the ingredients together with a slotted spoon, continuing to break up the tomatoes. Add the crushed red pepper, saffron, bay leaves, salt and ground pepper. Continue to stir until everything is well incorporated.  This is the base of the brodetto and it should simmer for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3.  Add seafood to broth.  Add the fish and allow the fish to cook for about four to five minutes or until the fish begins to become opaque.  Add the squid and continue to cook for about three to four minutes or until the squid starts to becomes opaque.  Add the shrimp and continue to cook until the shrimp is opaque. 

4.  Finish the dish.  Remove the brodetto from the heat. Toast the baguette slices and put a slice at the bottom of each bowl. Spoon the brodetto into each bowl and top the brodetto with flat leaf parsley.

ENJOY!

For more information about Brodetto, check out About.com.

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