Food

Souper Easy: Mediterranean Fish Soup From Scratch

 

The cliche “the best thing since canned soup” has been around for decades. Canned soup was one of the first convenience foods, as manufacturers persuaded millions of people to leave the cooking to them.

But all those years of mass marketing eclipsed two simple facts. The first is that homemade soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods, tasty and warming like a blanket. The other is that a big pot of soup that can last for days (and often gets better as it sits in the fridge) can be very easy to make.

To prove the point, we are starting a series of articles with the title Souper Easy. And we are not pulling punches with this Mediterranean Fish Soup. This is something I threw together from scratch a few weeks ago. My wife Barb loves it so much that it has now become a staple.

The wide variety of soup flavors have given many of the cooking-averse the impression that making soup is very complicated. In fact, most soups follow the same formula:

Step 1 (optional): If you are using raw meat, brown it in the soup pot, then remove.
Step 2: Add some olive/vegetable oil and warm over medium heat.
Step 3: Briefly saute aromatics such as garlic and onion.
Step 4: Layer in your vegetables of choice, cooking each until they just start to soften. [Note: Harder vegetables such as potatoes and carrots can take a long time to soften, so I recommend steaming or microwaving them until just slightly tender (al dente) before adding to the soup pot.]

Veggies play a starring role in the Mediterranean Fish Soup. While the recipe calls for canned or fresh tomatoes, this batch used frozen and thawed tomatoes from Nichols Farm & Orchard in Marengo, Illinois.

Step 5: Add salt to taste, cover with broth or water, bring to a boil.
Step 6: Reduce heat to medium low, add any other seasonings (such as pepper or herbs), and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
Step 7: If you are including a protein (raw fish or the meat you sauteed in Step 1 or cooked leftover meat or tofu), add it only with about 10 minutes of cooking time left and leave the heat at medium low. You want the proteins to be just cooked… cook them for too long and they can get tough or rubbery.

See the recipe below to see how the formula works for the Mediterranean Fish Soup. It is kind of like a scaled-down Italian zuppe di pesce, but it also has a can of baby clams and potatoes in it, so it’s also a little bit like a Manhattan clam chowder. Zuppe di Manhattan, anyone?

Barramundi, a mild white fish widely available in the freezer case, is excellent in the Mediterranean Fish Soup. In this version, I added mussel meats purchased at Whole Foods Market along with the fish and clams.

This soup is super-delicious, and is the epitome of the health-conscious Mediterranean diet: low in calories, packed with nutrients, using only healthy fat (olive oil). And if you want to make it even easier, you can omit one or two of the vegetables (not the tomatoes, though) without doing much damage.

Over the years, people have asked if I have a signature dish as an avid home cook, and I’ve been stumped, as I just make a lot of very simple things well. Now it appears I’ve found it. Maybe I’ll start a fish soup truck after COVID finally goes away.

One last note: I love chopping vegetables… I find it very Zen. Not everyone does. So if you want to use a food processor (I do sometimes when I’m in a hurry), go ahead, but use the pulse setting. You want to dice the veggies, not pulverize them.

MEDITERRANEAN FISH SOUP

(Serves multitudes)

2 large or 4 medium potatoes, medium dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic (or more), minced (optional)
1 large or 2 small-medium onions, small dice
2-3 celery stakes (include leaves if you have them), small dice
1 bell pepper (red best), small dice
Kale, leaves of 1-2 stems, chopped, or 2 ounces of baby spinach (optional)
16 ounces canned or fresh tomatoes, crushed or diced
Broth or water to cover (4-6 cups)
1 tablespoon each salt, oregano and basil
12-16 ounces of tender white fish (I often use barramundi)
1 6-ounce can of baby clams with liquid (optional)

Instructions

  1. Steam or microwave the potatoes until barely softened. Set aside.
  2. Warm olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Add minced garlic, stir for a few seconds until it starts to release its aroma, then add the diced onion and saute until it starts to soften.
  4. Add celery, saute until it starts to soften.
  5. Add bell pepper, cook until it starts to soften.
  6. Add kale or spinach, stir briefly until it starts to wilt.
  7. Add the potatoes, just stir to combine.
  8. Add tomatoes, sprinkle with some of the salt, simmer for a minute or two.
  9. Add broth or water with the rest of the salt, then bring to a boil over high heat.
  10. Reduce heat to medium low, add additional seasonings, simmer for 20 minutes.
  11. Add the fish and clams (if using) and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

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