As we head into holiday season, now’s a good time to start thinking ahead about menu planning. One of the most stressful things about holiday meals is the pressure to cook a big meal (often with multiple courses) for a group. You are faced with timing the cooking of multiple dishes, ensuring you are meeting the dietary preferences of multiple people, and (most importantly) making sure it all tastes good. This can all be a little daunting.
This year I plan to make one of my favorite holiday dishes: a traditional Italian-American Cioppino. Cioppino, also referred to as a “fisherman’s stew,” originated in San Francisco and includes a variety of fish and shellfish in a flavorful tomato-based broth. I love making this dish during holiday season because it is a nice, lighter alternative to the more common poultry and red meat dishes. It is also always a crowd-pleaser, and looks far more complex than it really is.
Here’s 3 easy steps to break down the prep and cooking of the Cioppino, plus additional suggested dish pairings and tips for a stress-free holiday meal.
#1. Plan your menu. This may seem obvious, but clearly writing out your menu and shopping ahead of time will greatly simplify the day. Think about building a menu that follows AICR’s New American Plate model, with 2/3 plant-based foods and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. For this meal, I decided on a variety of cancer-protective recipes that can easily be made ahead of time.
- Simple homemade hummus with an assorted raw vegetable crudité plate
- Cioppino (recipe to follow)
- Brussels slaw with cranberries and walnuts and/or a simple green salad
#2. Day Before: shop, cook and prep.
Buy all your ingredients except for the seafood the day before the dinner. Make your hummus, slaw, and cookies; store the hummus and slaw in the fridge and the cookies on the counter in an airtight container.
You can also get started on the Cioppino broth the day before, so the only cooking you have to do the day-of is to finish off the stew by adding the seafood.
The tomato base of the Cioppino tastes best when it has time to fully absorb the flavors of the garlic, onion, fennel, and herbs, and therefore tastes even better when it is made the day before. It’s also packed full of cancer-protective ingredients, including tomatoes that are rich in the antioxidant lycopene and garlic that contains compounds being studied for their anti-cancer properties.
I always begin by chopping all my ingredients and cleaning up my workspace before I get started on cooking. You can also buy already minced garlic and dried oregano to simplify the recipe further. This cioppino is made with no salt added diced tomatoes (I prefer including 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes), white wine, and water, instead of fish stock that is commonly found in Cioppino. This greatly reduces the sodium, but doesn’t impact flavor due to the addition of flavorful herbs and vegetables.
Once the broth has simmered for 30 minutes, remove it from the stovetop and store it in an air-tight container in the fridge overnight.
#3. Day of: Purchase your final ingredients, finish cooking, and serve.
The fresher the seafood the better, so this is one thing that I like to buy the day of the dinner party. I also prefer to buy fresh shrimp that is already deveined and peeled, taking away any prep work (sometimes you still have to remove the tails). If you can’t find already peeled and deveined fresh shrimp, buy frozen and thaw it under cold running water for about 20 minutes. Scrub the fresh clams, debeard the mussels, and cut the fish into 2” cubes. You can do this prep early in the day and store the seafood in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
Because the seafood dish only takes about 10 minutes to cook once the broth is reheated, make sure you have all other dishes ready to serve. I like to plate up the salads and sides and have the appetizers out in another room for guests, leaving a clean workspace in the kitchen to finish off the stew.
Reheat the broth on the stovetop when you are about 20 minutes from when you’d like to serve the meal. As soon as the broth is simmering, finish off the dish by adding the seafood. This Cioppino tastes great served with toasted sourdough bread, which I pop in the toaster just as the stew is finishing. You can also toast several slices at once in the oven at 200°F for 5-10 minutes.
Once all the clams and mussels have fully opened and the shrimp and fish are fully opaque, ladle the stew into large bowls. Add the toast to the edge of the bowl as you serve it. Make sure to set some empty bowls on the table for guests to discard shells, and you’re ready to eat!
What’s tips do you follow to plan for holiday meals?
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper
5 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ cup tomato paste (no salt added)
2 (28-oz) cans diced tomatoes (no salt added, optional fire roasted)
1 cup dry white wine
3½ cups water
1 lb. clams, scrubbed
1 lb. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 lb. large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. tilapia or halibut, cut into 2-3” cubes
1 loaf crusty bread
1. Add olive oil to large pot on medium heat. Add fennel, onion and shallots and sauté for 5-10 minutes, or until onions are translucent.
2. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté 2 minutes.
3. Add oregano, bay leaf, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and juices, wine and water. Stir well to combine.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Add clams and mussels to pot, stir and cover. Cook an additional 5 minutes or until they begin to open.
6. Add shrimp and fish and simmer with lid off 5 minutes, or until the mussels and clams are fully open*.
7. While the cioppino is finishing, toast slices of sourdough (or other) bread. (optional: rub garlic over the toasted bread)
8. Ladle soup into large bowls and serve with toasted sourdough bread.
*Discard any mussels or clams that do not open.
Per Serving: 340 calories, 9 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 22 g carbohydrate
36 g protein, 4 g fiber, 670 mg sodium
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is the Manager of Nutrition and Wellness at Zesty, Inc. She is passionate about helping others improve their health through diet and physical activity and believes eating nutritious food should be easy and taste great. You can follow her on Twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.