As far as I’m concerned, one of the all-time great soups is Provencal style fish soup. The first time I ate it I was beluga whale pregnant in St. Barth and I scarfed the bowl so fast the amused restaurant owner insisted I eat a second bowl. Sometimes there are very real advantages to being pregnant.
There are as many variations on this dish as there are fishermen and people who eat fish, but basically it’s a fish soup, with tomatoes and usually served with cheese, aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and toasted bread. No matter if you like your fish soup smooth and silky or full of parts and pieces, if you like a big dollop of aioli or just a smear on toast and gently dabbed into the soup, it’s all good.
Which brings me to my fast Italian version. In Italy, you can find great frozen fish in the supermarket, it comes super vacuum-sealed, so sealed that you can’t even see the packaging. I keep some on hand for soups or sauces and to feed those unexpected guests. In NY I buy shrimp in bulk for the same reason, just handy to have around. The variety and quality of frozen fish in Italy is something I miss while I’m in NY, so I did the happy dance when I found these “ready to cook” seafood meals at the Italian store in the Chelsea Market. While “ready in 5 minutes” or “pronto in 5 minuti’ is my favorite brand, I was more than happy to give “I Pronti da cuocere” a chance.
Should you have the good fortune to stumble across this type of frozen fish, here’s a quick and delicious fish soup variation.
1 package of ready to cook mixed seafood
1 celery stalk
1 medium onion
1 cup of pureed tomatoes
¼ cup cognac or whiskey
4 cups water
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
Finely mince the celery, carrot and onion and put into your soup pot with a little bit of olive oil. Turn the heat on medium and let the vegetables soften and mingle, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 15 minutes while you make the aioli (see recipe below). If you have a stick blender, at this point puree the soup right in the pot. Stick blenders are very handy for making soup, otherwise pour the soup into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return the soup to the stove and add the cognac and the frozen fish and cook until the fish is bubbly hot. Serve the soup with the aioli, shredded Gruyere cheese and some bread slice croutons on the side. (Thin slices of bread that you toast or dry in the oven.) This is a hearty soup, so even though its fish, serve it with a light red wine, like a young pinot noir.
½ cup olive oil
½ cup vegetable oil
1 fresh egg yolk
1 T mustard
3 cloves of garlic as finely minced as you can manage
1 chili pepper, finely minced, optional
Put the egg yolk, mustard, garlic, chili pepper in the bottom of a heavy bowl and whisk together. Now, slowly, in tiny little drippy increments add the oil, whisking continuously so you never see an oil slick but the oil just keeps getting incorporated into the mayonnaise. Yes, you are making mayonnaise by hand. You can do it in a food processor or with a hand held blender but I like to do it by hand. It takes all of 4 or 5 minutes and I just like doing it. When all the oil is incorporated add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar to stabilize the mayonnaise. Store covered in the fridge. Fresh aioli will last 3-4 days in the fridge, and it tastes great on top of a grilled piece of meat.