I LOVE seafood. All types of seafood. But it wasn't always this way. Growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, yes, I have always had a fondness for fish, shrimp crawfish and crab, but that was about the extent of it. None of those "gross" things with shells for me, thank you. And little guys with multiple legs/tentacles... forget it. And then I spent a summer in Italy that changed everything.
I clearly remember when my love affair with seafood began. I was somewhere in the south of Italy, in a little town along the coast and for dinner we ate at a tiny restaurant down on the dock. Not a lot of options on the menu and I ended up ordering Frutti de Mare... it was game over. A beautiful plate of pasta with a tomato sauce and all manner of sea critters on top. I had never tasted seafood like that in my life - fresh, tender and not at all "fishy". Linguini alle Vongole quickly became another favorite. A new world had been opened up to me.
Over time is has become apparent that not everyone shares my fondess for little sea creatures. At Nino's in Houston, for instance, when I ordered the Zuppe de Pesce, my girlfriends all gave me weird looks and I think the little squid(s?) even offended a few of them. However, my dear husband is a great sport, and although he does not approach them with the same gusto I do, he does enjoy a good mollusk every now and then. In addition, we have been blessed with some friends who also enjoy seafood. The other night they graciously agreed to come over to share in a steaming pot of cioppino.
R and I first learned of cioppino while watching an episode of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" on Food Network. He challenged Phil, of Phil's Fish Market in northern California, to a Cioppino Throwdown - and lost. The episode was entertaining for sure, Phil is quite a character, but I was more interested in the dish itself. Cioppino is an Italian American seafood stew. The broth is tomato based, can be quite garlicky and makes the perfect backdrop for the real stars - the seafood. I found a bare bones, no frills recipe that involves white fish, shrimp, mussels and clams. Very simple, but very delicious.
We served a simple salad and a few good, crusty baguettes with the stew. Our friends brought some wonderful wine and we all ate until we could eat no more. I love the relaxed atmosphere and the easy conversation that seem to inevitably accompany a good meal. To me there is nothing better than sharing a meal with good friends.