When someone says, "I made cioppino for dinner," usually it means she followed a recipe for this Italian tomatoey-seafood medley. When I say the same thing, I really do mean, I made cioppino for dinner. I didn't have a recipe, but felt brave--hey, I knew its basic ingredients. You might understand me better if I give you a bit of my personal cooking history, or revolution.
Growing up in a Chinese home, my family came to the supper table expecting simple, but delicious Chinese dishes each night. Chinese cuisine is such that you can look in your produce drawer, take inventory of your veggies, slice up some meat, and stir fry them up together; then, serve it over rice. So, naturally, I got married knowing nothing of meal planning, following a recipe, and making a list for the grocery store. For example, planning to make Chicken Cordon Bleu on Wednesday, and shopping for chicken, ham, swiss cheese, bread crumbs and whipping cream on Monday is out of the question. For the last nine years of my married life I've consulted my tastebuds and looked in the fridge and pantry for what was compatible. No one's ever complained...except for the time I made french onion soup (from a recipe) and served up onions that tasted like rubber bands in beef broth. Somehow it always turns out that way when I follow a recipe. So instead, I buy cookbooks for the pictures, basic ingredients and inspiration. (For those of you who measure everything out, I regret that most of the recipes you'll find on this blogsite will be approximations, and WILL require that you fiddle with the recipe.)
So, at about 3:30 this afternoon, I started scratching my head, wondering what to make for supper. Seeing that I had canned tomatoes, frozen calamari rings, ready to serve mussels, frozen shrimp, and tilapia on hand (no, really, it was all in my fridge), I decided to made cioppino for dinner. As made abundantly clear earlier, I'm Chinese, not Italian. For anyone out there for whom cioppino is a fave--consult an Italian before trying this at home. I also like to use ready made ingredients (especially from Trader Joe's), to make the prep go faster. My best advice for what to fix for supper is always to follow your cravings and layer one loved ingredient upon another...it almost always turns out to be just what you were hankerin' for.
Swirl around your stockpot 2 or 3 times with the olive oil on med-high heat. Add garlic, and stir. Once you smell garlicky goodness, add carrots, onion, basil and oregano. Saute and stir until onions are translucent. Add tilapia, and more olive oil if needed. When fish turns white, add about 1 cup of the chardonnay. Stir a bit. Add tomatoes and juice next and simmer for 5 min. or so. Add mussels and the juice it comes in. Adjust the flavor of the broth with salt and pepper, a few swigs of worcestershire sauce, about half cup red wine vinegar, and a good swig of Tabasco. You'll probably want to add a little more white wine. Simmer off some of the alcohol. When broth is to your liking, add calamari and shrimp. They will cook in a minute or so...when shrimp are pink and calamari shrinks up a bit. You're done! Serve up with crusty rustic loaf bread, and a glass of the Charles Shaw if you like....so impressive with so little effort. And you know the best part? My hubby was pleasantly suprised, and my five and three year olds enjoyed cioppino for dinner for the first time, minus the fancy place settings with wine glasses and the fancy tab.