Brodetto is a traditional seafood stew made in her hometown of Fano, in the Marche region of Italy. My grandmother ("Ma" as we all called her) made it on a meatless feast day and served it over creamy polenta. Polenta isn't commonly used in Fano. In fact, when Mom and I visited Fano in 2000, the brodetto we had at a restaurant next to the wharf was served alone as a main dish, with a thinner sauce than we remembered from Ma.
My recipe gives you the option to make either a thick sauce suitable for making polenta even more delicious, or a thin sauce that you might serve simply with bread on the side. I've long since lost the recipe Ma gave me in the Nineties. But several years back, after a thorough Web search, I printed out and translated an Italian recipe and used it as my base. I'm afraid I don't have the original source, to give it credit. I'm afraid all I have is this reflection of how I made this dish yesterday for Good Friday:
Brodetto alla fanese
· 1 onion, diced finely
· 3 garlic, diced finely
· 1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
· 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
· 1 ½ cup white wine
· 1 ½ cup water
· 2 bottles of passata or tomato sauce (and the water to rinse them out)
Fish and Seafood
· 1-2 fillets of white fish (e.g., haddock, halibut, cod)
· 2-lb. bag of mussels
· 12-24 shrimp
· Other seafood to taste (e.g. sea or bay scallops, shrimp, octopus, clams). Frozen seafood may be used if thawed before adding to the sauce.
1. In a deep skillet or large pot, fry onions in olive oil. When onions are soft, add garlic and fry briefly.
2. In the centre of the pan, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste and cook until it browns slightly. Mix onions, garlic and tomato paste together to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add vinegar, wine and water and bring to a boil for a few minutes.
4. Add passata and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. (The proportion of water/wine to passata can be adjusted to achieve the consistency you desire. I prefer a thicker base, to go with the polenta. Passata can be omitted in favour of the tomato paste for a thinner base.)
5. Add the fish and seafood and bring back to a boil until cooked. Take note to add the fish that will take longest to cook first, so that everything reaches a cooked state at approximately the same time. Do not overcook.
6. Serve immediately with creamy polenta, as my fanese grandmother did, likely to appease her Furlan husband. In Fano, the brodetto has a thinner sauce and is served without a side dish.
To clean mussels:
Put the mussels in a colander and rinse with cold water. Scrub each mussel, one by one. Throw out any that are cracked or open. To test an open mussel to see if it is still fresh for cooking, tap it against the sink. If it closes, it is OK to cook. If not, throw it out. If the mussel has a beard, pull it against the mussel’s hinge to remove it. If necessary, use a knife to cut off the beard.