TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - You know, this is one of my favorite winter dishes, money well spent, and certainly very column worthy. So why have I not featured it in the past two years? Bad memories. Twice I tried to host a big Cioppino party and twice I failed miserably. Once, while tending to my arriving guests, I forgot to tend to the big pot loaned to me by Moody's and burned the whole batch. (The pot, by the way, was fine.) Another time I forgot not to drink and, again, the soup suffered. Or so they tell me. Betty Crocked strikes again!
Well, the third time's the charm and this year my Cioppino had guests singing "That's Amore!" Of course I had to invite a whole new group of friends who would not feel compelled to reminisce about my previous disastrous attempts. But that's OK. Cioppino, if done well, has a way of bringing people together for life. And if not done well, it will make your guests feel better about themselves.- -
2 onions, coarsely chopped
3 Tbls. olive oil
1 28 oz. can whole stewed tomatoes and all the juice
1 24 oz. jar spaghetti sauce (Ragu is fine.)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 lb. mahi fillets or other firm, white fish (cod works), cut into 2 x 3-inch pieces.
8 oz. clam juice
2 lb. raw shrimp, 16-20 count, easy to peel, tail on. (I peel them, but shell on is fine, if a bit messy in mixed company.)
2 lbs. clams, in shells
As many king crab legs as you can afford, but two big ones is ample. Slit the legs lengthwise and then cut into three 4-inch pieces.
1 cup white wine
1 cup chopped parsley
In large, heavy pot saute onions in olive oil until soft. Add tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and salt. Cook over medium heat until flavors are well blended, about 10 minutes. Add fish and cook on low heat, no stirring, until fish is done, about 20 minutes. Add clam juice, clams, and crab legs simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, bringing it back to simmer. Next add the shrimp and wine, stirring gently to submerge shrimp. Cook over low heat for another 5 minutes. Add parsley a few minutes before serving. This Cioppino can be prepared ahead of time and re-heated (on low) when guests arrive. Serve with a crusty garlic bread for dipping. My favorite pre-made, in the frozen section at Save Mart, is Alexia's artisan Garlic Baguette.