Legend has it that there are as many mouthwatering versions of Brodetto as there are fisherman along the Romagna portion of the Adriatic coast in Italy. While the number of variations is uncertain, three ingredients have always remained the same: tomatoes, olive oil, and wine.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper writes in “The Splendid Table” that, when the stew came into popularity years ago, Romagna fishermen would hop on small, sail-powered boats and go to sea for seven or eight days straight. A quart of olive oil, a small barrel of wine, and maybe some tomatoes had to last a week. Now, making a proper Brodetto is “almost a religious rite, with no two cooks ever entirely agreeing on method and ingredients.”
Kasper’s recipe includes onions braised in vinegar and stewed with tomatoes and seafood. While I was making it, I scooped up some broth in a spoon, lowered it on my tongue, and swished. The tart vinegar flavor was so pronounced that I wondered if there was a mistake in the recipe. I added a squirt of honey and tasted it again. The broth of tomatoes, vinegar, and white wine mellowed slightly. I ladled some into our bowls, still wondering if I had wasted three good pounds of fish.
Paul set the bowls on the coffee table, poured steep glasses of Austrian Gruner Veltliner, and clicked on Mario Batali’s Spain… on the Road Again. We were planning a trip to Barcelona and I wanted to learn about Spanish food by watching the popular PBS series. I couldn’t find a Spanish seafood stew recipe that I wanted to make for the occasion, so I settled on the Italian Brodetto. (How different could it be?).
As Mario, and his companion, Gwyneth Paltrow, sped off in their sleek, convertible Mercedes on a culinary tour across Spain, my own culinary tour began –in my bowl. At first, I slurped the broth slowly. It seemed all right; not too vinegary. Then, in between dips of bread and sips of wine, I picked up speed. As I filled my mouth with spoonful after spoonful of sweet, tangy, seafood stew, my worries vanished. The stew’s bright notes of vinegar and white wine highlighted the fish flavors beautifully.
My fantasies of Spain faded into sunny visions of the Italian coast. The luscious Brodetto had transported me to the heart of Romagna, where the fish stew was born.
Now I need you're help: Help me stay focused on Spain! Got a favorite Spanish video? Favorite Spanish chef? I want to know. Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy an Italian Brodetto.
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 large onions
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 three-inch strips of lemon peel
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 cans chopped tomatoes
4 cups white wine
1 pound bluefish, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound flounder, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 pound shrimp
1 pound squid, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, bring the vinegar to a lively bubble over high heat. Add the onions, turn the heat to low, and partially cover the pot. Cook about 15 minutes until the onions are soft and almost transparent. Stir occasionally. If the liquid starts to evaporate, add a little water.
Once the onions are soft, uncover the pot and let the vinegar bubble gently, stirring, until it evaporates. Add the oil, a little salt, and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Saute over medium heat uncovered about 10 minutes more until golden. Stir in the lemon zest and garlic, and cook about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes; raise the heat, and boil, uncovered until thick. Pour in the wine and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil over high heat for five minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning. Add the squid and cook it at a gentle bubble for 20 minutes.
Add the remaining seafood. Bring the liquid to a slow bubble. Cover, and cook 5 to 10 minutes, or until the thickest pieces are firm and opaque to their centers.
Ladle the Brodetto into yours bowls and garnish with the remainder of parsley.
Note: Kasper recommends a crisp white like a Sauvignon from Colli Bolognesi, a Trebbiano di Romagna, or a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. We enjoyed it with a crisp, white Austrian Gruner Veltliner.