Cioppino & Pasta Best of Both Worlds

I was in the mood for seafood but the hunky BF wanted pasta.

What’s an over-achieving boot-licker to do?

Well combine both ideas and make everyone happy of course! This is another one of those made up recipes. I can’t take all the credit though, because the BF suggested combining them (and he chose the shell-shaped pasta whose synchronicity with the shellfish made me smile). I emailed my brother for more help and he suggested chorizo. He also chose the wine for this pairing.

Though, I share the credit and I am not one to “tweet” my own horn (well maybe I am), I still have to say this is one of the best recipes I ever made up.

The word cioppino and the dish itself have become San Francisco classics. Still, its roots (even its name) may be Italian in origin. Which may lay some credence to the tale I have heard told that it was first brought to the American palate in the North Beach section of that great city by the bay.

Fattoria Laila Verdicchio dei Castelli wine pairingBut it’s the Mediterranean flair of this tomato based seafood stew that interests me. It seems that quite a few Italian fishermen may have immigrated to the US and settled in the Bay Area of California. Maybe they brought the tradition with them… because a typical fisherman’s stew may be the roots of this dish and most likely originated on boats working the waters of the Mediterranean. At this time fishing boats didn’t have refrigeration. So they were limited to the seafood they caught and canned foods, like tomatoes. Bread and wine could have survived the journey. So it’s likely these ingredients influenced the nightly meals of the men who worked these vessels.

This explains how it may have come to San Francisco. It even explains the ingredients, but where did the word come from? Well there are two (at least) accepted possibilities.

Ciuppin is a word in the Ligurian dialect of Italian common to the port city of Genoa. It means “to chop”. Well, the various leftovers of the day’s catch may have needed some chopping to make them acceptable to the stew pot. So that’s one possibility for the name. I also read a less likely story about fishermen on San Francisco’s similarly named wharf “chippin’ in” a bit of this and that from the day’s catch to make a communal soup.

Of course we’ll never know. But one thing is for certain. The fishermen who harvested the seas here or abroad probably never had my version served to them. Because I have added pasta shells stuffed with chorizo and clams. Then I baked these shells in a thick version of the sauce that becomes the base of the cioppino, which is poured on top of the pasta shells and served with lots of fresh seafood.

So whether I take all the credit, or I share it with my brother, the city of San Francisco, the grand tradition of Italian fishermen, or even the hunky BF– it doesn’t really matter, because I am hoping you’ll be too busy sticking your face into this fragrant bowl to really care too much.

Chorizo & Clam Stuffed Pasta Shells In Chorizo Sauce serves 4 generously CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1/2 c olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 clv garlic, minced
  • 2 large shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks and fronds trimmed off, cored and slices cross-wise
  • 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, cut in 1/4″ dice
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano
  • 1 t crushed red-pepper flakes, or to more taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 3 1/2 c dry white vermouth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 c clam juice
  • 2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T vegetable oil, plus more for baking dish
  • 1 T salt for pasta water
  • 1 lb dried pasta shells, big enough to stuff
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 4 oz cured spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 (6.5 oz) cans of chopped clams, rinsed and drained
  • 1 c fresh (not toasted) breadcrumbs
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1/2 c roughly chopped italian parsley
  • 1/4 c fennel leaves, delicate fronds only, chopped
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 lb firm fleshed fish of your choosing cut into 1″ chunks
  • 12 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 12 small clams such as manila, well scrubbed
  • 12 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • 1/4 roughly chopped basil leaves
  • 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes

cioppino preparationPrepare the Sauce
Heat 1/4‑cup olive oil in a stockpot set over medium heat. Add garlic & shallots, sweat until softened. Add fennel, carrot & celery; cook an additional 3 minutes. Add thyme & oregano, along with red pepper. Season with salt & pepper.

Add tomato paste, stirring often. Once the paste cooks down, add 1‑cup vermouth, de-glazing the pan. Raise heat to medium-high & continue to cook until the liquid thickens. Add an additional cup of vermouth & continue cooking; until the liquid is reduced by half. Add bay leaves, can of tomatoes with its liquid, 2 cups clam juice & the Worcestershire. Lower heat to a simmer & cover the pot. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

Turn off heat & remove herb branches & bay leaves. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce. It should be slightly thick, but smooth & velvety. Bring to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

Prepare the Shells
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 2‑quart casserole. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add 1 T salt & the pasta shells. Cook until al dente, about 12 minutes. Stir the shells to prevent them from sticking together. Drain into a colander and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

more cioppino prepHeat 2 T olive oil in a medium-sized saute pan set over medium heat. Add the onions & cook a few moments. Add the chorizo & the clams stirring until well coated. Pour in 1/2‑cup vermouth & continue to cook until the liquid is reduced & the pan is nearly dry. Season with a little salt & pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the breadcrumbs & clam juice, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, 1/4‑cup parsley & fennel fronds, mix well.

Drizzle a light layer of the sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Working with one shell at a time, spoon 1 to 3 T of the chorizo mixture (depending on the size of your shells) into each shell setting them into the baking dish as you work. They should be touching, but not tightly packed. Once the dish is filled, drizzle additional sauce over the shells, be generous, but they should not be swimming in the sauce. Bake the shells until the sauce is bubbling & the exposed areas of shell are just beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. Set them aside, loosely covered.

Prepare the Cioppino
Add red wine vinegar to the remaining sauce and bring to a simmer. Adjust the consistency of the sauce with water. You want it brothy, but not watery. Use your judgment. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Add the fish and shrimp to the pot of simmering base. Cover the pot.

cioppino stuffed pasta shellsTo Serve
Spoon several stuffed shells into each of 4 low soup bowls. In a large skillet with lid, heat the remaining 1‑cup of vermouth set over medium heat. Add the clams & mussels. Cover & cook; shaking until the shellfish open, about 5 minutes. Discard unopened shellfish; divide the rest among the soup bowls. Strain the remaining liquid into the cioppino & raise the heat. Once small bubbles begin to appear on the edges of the pot turn the heat off, do not let the cioppino come to a boil. Ladle the cioppino over the shellfish & pasta shells making sure to include a variety of fish and shrimp. Garnish generously with remaining parsley, basil & a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm.


Greg Henry