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The Adriatic Fishermen’s Brodetto, Brodetto dei Pescatori dell’Adriatico

Brodetto is the traditional fish stew of Riviera Romagnola, what the fishing families would prepare from the fish they were unable to sell — fish that were small or bony, and didn’t have much market value. But they are tasty, and while the women prepared it at home, the men cooked it on the boats.

To serve 6:

  • 3 pounds (1 1/2 k) mixed fish  (kinds discussed below)
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup strong vinegar
  • Abundant parsley
  • 3 onions
  • 1 cup extravirgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves Garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and the fishermen use, among others, eel, sea mullet, flounder, squid, reef mullet, cuttlefish, and scorpion fish. Wash clean and scale the fish, cutting up the larger fish and leaving the smaller fish whole.

Mince the parsley and the garlic, and slice the onions. Put them in a large pot, with the olive oil, set the pot over a moderate flame, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent gold. Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, and 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) boiling water. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pot, and simmer for a half hour. Add the larger pieces of fish, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, and then the smaller pieces, recover the pot, and simmer everything for a half hour more.

Serve the brodetto over slices of bread that you have either toasted or fried in butter.

A few observations:

  • Though vinegar was traditionally used to flavor brodetto, many now prefer to add dry white wine.
  • There are a number of local variations along the Riviera Romagnola
  • In Cattolica they omit both parsley and vinegar.
  • In Riccione they omit the garlic, parsley, and onions, and let the sauce cool before they add the fish and return it to the fire; they sprinkle red wine into it.
  • In Cesenatico they omit the onion, vinegar, and wine.

You are free to follow local custom or not; I think I would go with all the ingredients.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti

Cesentatico’s Brodetto, Il Brodetto di Cesenatico

Brodetto is the Riviera Romagnola’s traditional fish stew, and as is true for all regional specialties, there are many local variations. In particular, Cesenatici use eels and star gazers. To serve four you’ll need:

  • 4 1/2 pounds mixed fresh fish (kinds discussed below)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • A scant half cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley
  • A tablespoon of white wine vinegar or a half cup of dry white wine (optional)

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and in Cesenatico they use, among others, the greater weaver, tub gunnard, scorpion fish, sea eels, star gazers, and cuttlefish; many also add anglerfish, mullet, baby squid, and mantis shrimp. Scale and clean the fish as need be, wash it well, and cut up the larger fish while leaving the smaller ones whole.

Mince the garlic and parsley, finely slice the onion, and sauté the mixture in a broad fairly deep pot; when the onion has become translucent gold add the vinegar or wine if you’re using it, and when it has evaporated, the tomato paste diluted in a couple of ladles of boiling water (you’ll want enough to cover the fish), and season everything with salt and pepper.

When the mixture comes to a boil add the fish, beginning with the cuttlefish and squid. Simmer them covered for 10 minutes, and then add the larger pieces, cook a little longer, and then add the smaller pieces, keeping the pot covered between additions.

Raise the heat to a slightly brisker simmer and cook ten minutes more, then reduce the heat to a slower simmer and cook another 20, removing the lid for the last 10 to let the sauce thicken.

Serve the brodetto over slices of toasted bread.

In terms of variations, many add either shrimp or scampi, and clams or mussels, though traditionalists frown at both of these additions.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti

Brudet, the Brodetto of Bellaria-Igea Marina

Brodetto is the Riviera Romagnola’s traditional fish stew, and as is true for all regional specialties, there are many local variations. This is a fairly rich brodetto; to serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) mixed fish (see note below)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • A scant half cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley
  • A tablespoon of white wine vinegar or a half cup of dry white wine

The fish should be what’s locally available, fresh, and inexpensive — no need for renowned exotics here. Rather, what is flavorful, and in Bellaria they use, among others, cuttlefish, gray mullet, reef mullet, mackerel, bogue, scad, striped mullet, mantis shrimps (when in season), crabs, and sole. Scale and clean the fish as need be, wash it well, and cut up the larger fish while leaving the smaller ones whole.

Mince the garlic and parsley, finely slice the onion, and sauté the mixture in a broad fairly deep pot; when the onion has become translucent gold add the wine, and when it has evaporated, the tomato paste diluted in a couple of ladles of boiling water (you’ll want enough to cover the fish), and season everything with salt and pepper.

When the mixture comes to a boil add the fish, beginning with the cuttlefish. Simmer them covered for 10 minutes, and then add the larger pieces, cook a little longer, and then add the smaller pieces, keeping the pot covered between additions.

Raise the heat to a slightly brisker simmer and cook ten minutes more, then reduce the heat to a slower simmer and cook another 20, removing the lid for the last 10 to let the sauce thicken.

The major variation to this brodetto, enjoyed by some fishermen, was the addition of a few drops of vinegar and a finely sliced onion laid over the fish at the halfway point in the cooking — the onion made the dish seem sweeter.

Serve the brodetto over toasted bread, rubbed with a little garlic if you prefer.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti

Sardine Brodetto, Brodetto di Sardoni

Brodetto is the traditional fish stew of the Riviera Romagnola, and it is usually made form a mixture of fish — whatever the fishermen were unable to sell. This is a single-fish variation for sardine season. To serve 4 you’ll need:

  • 3 pounds (1.5 k) fresh sardines
  • Olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • An onion, sliced finely
  • 3-4 canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped, and the canning liquid
  • Salt and an abundance of pepper

Begin by scaling and cleaning the sardines, and removing their heads. Wash them well, in sea water if you live near the coast in a place where the water is clean (the fishermen used to do this out at sea). Drain the fish in a colander.

Take a broad pot, set it on the fire, and add a little olive oil — just enough to keep things from sticking and burning — followed by the garlic, and the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent gold, and then add the tomatoes and their juice. Season to taste with sea salt (kosher salt will work well) and an abundance of freshly ground pepper. Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, covered, then add the fish and cook for another 7-8 minutes.

Serve the brodetto over toasted bread or with sea biscuits, and a light red wine along the lines of a Sangiovese di Romagna.

About Brodetto and Other Brodetti

Cacciucco alla Viareggina, Cacciucco Viareggio Style

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco is a fish stew made from whatever the fishmonger has left over (or fails to sell), and consequently requires a number of kinds of fish to succeed. It’s also a classic frugal dish, the maritime equivalent of true peasant food, and like many of the peasant dishes made inland (ribollita comes to mind), it’s so good that now everyone enjoys it regardless of social status. The best known cacciucco is cacciucco alla livornese, made in Livorno, which has a healthy jolt of red pepper. Cacciucco alla Viareggina is a bit blander but just as tasty; the recipe is drawn from Mariù Salvatori Zuliani’s excellent book, La Cucina di Versilia e Garfagnana.

“It’s a spicy stew,” she writes, “that’s served at all hours in the trattorie of Viareggio’s port. A little less heavy on red pepper than what’s made in Livorno, but equally good.”

Begin by finely slicing an onion and mincing a clove of garlic and small amounts of carrot and celery (1/4 cup or so of each).

Sauté the mixture in olive oil, and as soon as the onion turns golden stir in some tomato sauce (not too much; you’re not making soup), pepper, a little shredded red pepper, and a pinch of salt, then add the fish, which should be washed, cleaned, scaled and boned — add them either whole or chopped depending upon their size. The fish that work best are: reef mullet, totani (little squid), moscardini (baby octopus), a few pieces of dogfish or other larger sliced fish, monkfish, small grey mullet or a slice of a larger fish, and mussels or the shellfish of choice.

Heat through, then add a glass of dry white wine, and simmer until the fish is cooked. Remove the pieces that have remained whole, and put everything else through a strainer to filter out bones, scales and whatnot.

While the fish is cooking, rub slices of bread with garlic, toast them, and use them to line soup bowls. Then reheat the pieces of fish in their strained sauce, stir in a handful of minced parsley, ladle the cacciucco over the bread in the bowls, and serve.

Cacciucco alla Livornese, which gains a healthy jolt from hot pepper