A Nice Cuppa Soup
And though we don't have our normally gorgeous, balmy weather, we do still have access to all manner of fresh, delicious seafood, which brings to mind one of the world's great seafood soups: bouillabaisse. This time-honored specialty of Provence, where they know a thing or two about crappy weather, is typically a somewhat complicated dish to prepare, what with making fish stock and croutons and rouille, pureeing and straining the broth, and separately cooking the various fish (and sometimes shellfish) that complete the mix.
Never mind all that.
A quite respectable bouillabaisse (or variation on the bouillabaisse theme) can be made much more easily with several fewer steps. If it's not authentically Provencal, well, in another few days we'll get our tropical paradise back and be thumbing our noses at the frozen tundra.
Easy (Almost) Bouillabaisse
2 lbs. fish (grouper, mahi, sea bass or any white-fleshed fish)
2 dozen middleneck clams
Shellfish of choice (shrimp, scallops, lobster, crab)--optional
2/3 C. dry white wine or more
6 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
8 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 t. fennel seed
1 t. each, dried thyme and oregano
1 t. saffron threads
2 bay leaves
1 baguette, sliced ½-inch thick on diagonal
4 T. mayonnaise
½ t. garlic, grated fine on microplaner or mashed to paste
Pinch saffron and cayenne
A few drops of lemon juice
For soup stock: Rinse off clams and place in two or more large skillets, adding 1/3 C. white wine to each and filling with water about halfway up clams. Bring to low boil and cover until clams open (about 10 minutes; discard any that don't open). Remove and refrigerate clams (in shell). Pour off broth, leaving any grit behind. (You should have approximately 2 quarts.)
In heavy pot or dutch oven, heat 4 T. olive oil and sauté next nine ingredients until tender. Add clam broth (it's pretty salty so you probably won't need to add any salt) and simmer for 45 minutes to blend flavors. Puree in blender and strain back into pot.
Brush baguette slices with remaining 2 T. olive oil and bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes or until crisp and browned.
For rouille: Mix mayonnaise with other ingredients and reserve.
Clean shellfish (if using) and reserve. Cut fish into large chunks and reserve.
To prepare and serve: Heat soup bowls in oven. Bring strained stock to slow simmer, add fish and shellfish and simmer until barely cooked. Add clams and simmer two minutes more. Divide clams among four soup bowls, then ladle in broth and fish/shellfish. Smear four croutons with rouille and place on in the center of each bowl, scattering with chopped parsley or chives if desired. Serve with rest of croutons and rouille on the side.