Have you ever noticed there seems to be a correlation between the holidays and cold and flu season? This is the time of year when we celebrate a little harder and sleep a lot less. It’s a particularly strenuous time of year for the cooks in the family. The gathering hordes may be heartwarming, but it’s easy to forget we have to feed the assembled generations. To those who celebrate Christmas, the three major meals of the season – Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas brunch and Christmas dinner – can quickly become a 24-hour marathon. You’re going to need a creative culinary compromise if you plan to get through without developing chronic fatigue syndrome. How about a make-ahead Cioppino elegant enough for Christmas Eve?
In my opinion, a make-ahead Cioppino is a more convenient spin on the traditionally opulent Italian celebration the Feast of the Seven Fishes. In keeping with tradition, this version is loaded with fresh seafood. It’s easy to prepare the base a couple of days in advance, then marinate the seafood in that base the night before, and then simply slide the pot into the oven about an hour before you’re ready to eat. You’ll get the satisfaction of claiming everyone’s attention as you place a jumble of crab legs and chunks of fish in a steaming red broth onto the holiday table. With an easy to amend variation of seafood, it’s a great way to tick off the required number of fishes for that time-honored Italian holiday feast. Don’t forget the crusty sourdough bread and an elegant Pinot Noir with low tannins and bright acidity.
The best news for the busy cook is there is no single recipe for Cioppino. Whether it’s brothy or saucy, spicy with peppers or sweet with fennel, cioppino is a guaranteed success for a holiday meal. A tomatoey broth and a variety of seafood are the only mandatory elements. So stay healthy and take the stress off the season. Create your own make-ahead Cioppino. GREG