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Fish soup - Taranto style A traditional dish on Christmas Eve, it is made in several different ways up and down Italy.
The freshness of the fish and the speed of cooking are the essential elements
by Dario Ersetti
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Fish soup – Taranto style. Photo by Dario Ersetti

On Christmas Eve, people used to eat sparingly, in accordance with the precepts of religion and tradition. A popular dish was fish soup.

Almost certainly no other dish has so many variants as fish soup. Even the name itself changes. “Broth” from Trieste to Termoli, then it becomes “soup” and the recipes get simpler and simpler and less codified, until the freshness of the fish becomes the main ingredient to consider.

Another characteristic of this dish is the place where it is cooked. Starting from the North, at Marano Lagunare we find a soup of gudgeon tongues, Venetian-fashion, that used to be served up in the nobles’ palazzi, with the rest of the fish being given to the plebs. The boreto alla graisana, with eel or brill, that was made strictly by men in the fishing huts on the lagoon in Grado, was enjoyed also in the noble houses in Venice but here was known as the sumptuous brodeto alla venexiana, in which you can breathe all the culture of the Serenissima.

Further south, where the olive oil territory begins, the broths and then the soups were cooked on board the trawlers, using the fish that slipped, worse the wear, from the nets and for this reason couldn’t be offered for sale. The first recipes were just with the fish cooked in sea water with whole onions, chilli pepper and garlic and then poured into slices of bread, and then fresh tomatoes began to be added, and then gradually the recipes got more diversified and more articulated, while keeping the two traditional features of the freshness of the fish and the speed of its cooking.

As well as fish, a mix of molluscs and seafood that varies depending on the season and what is available, there is always parsley; in the North only garlic but going south also onion (with or without garlic). From Vasto to Termoli an indispensable ingredient is red or green peppers, together with garlic and basil.

These broths are cooked in a shallow earthenware pot with its lid on and shouldn’t be stirred, just moved around a little with a rotation of the pot itself, and are served by taking off the lid in front of the diners so that they first enjoy the wonderful smell of the dish.

An interesting idea from Brindisi is that of sprinkling shredded parsley and crushed garlic raw on the soup.

Crossing over to the Tyrrhenian coast, we make a mention only of the Ligurian ciuppin, which takes us directly to San Francisco, where Giuseppe Bazzurro, a Genoan fisherman, turned an abandoned boat into the first Italian restaurant and began serving this soup in 1850. He was imitated at once by the other Genoan fishermen who, like him, had emigrated to San Francisco’s North Beach, and the dish was so successful that these days ciuppin has become the city’s signature dish.

We have chosen the Taranto style fish soup because, apart from being a compendium of Apulian soups, it’s the one that seems most elegantly presented. And above all, it’s exquisite!



The recipe




- seafood (mussels, clams, sea truffles etc.)

- slices of grouper, scorpion fish, etc.

- prawns and cuttlefish

- plum tomatoes

- parsley

- olive oil

- garlic

- salt

- pepper

- some slices of Altamura bread


Place the pieces of cut fish with the whole (small) cuttlefish and the prawns in an earthenware pot; add the oil, a little water, strips of tomatoes, parsley, pepper and garlic and cook, tasting occasionally in case you need more salt.

In another pot place the seafood (well washed and brushed) and cook them to open them in the same base of oil, parsley, pepper and strips of tomato, with salt to taste.

Serve the fish with their sauce in dishes and then place the seafood on top with theirs. Complete with slices of fried bread.

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