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A while back I got a note from a Bay Area food writer, who wondered what information I could give her on cioppino, the local fish stew. Though the name did sound Italian, I had never heard of it. Nor was it mentioned in any of my cookbooks, so I explored the web, where I found lots of recipes and variations, and a general consensus that the recipe is San Franciscan.

However, in the course of a discussion on cioppino that came up the Rec.Foods.Cooking newsgroup Michael Edelman said,

"Yes, it [cioppino] *is* Italian. It's a Mediterranean dish not unlike bouillabaisse. And like bouillabaisse, there are countless variations, and everyone thinks theirs is the only true version. There are enough versions that the two probably overlap."

To which Howard Isaacs (author, with Maureen Fant, of the Dictionary of Italian Cuisine, just released by Ecco Press (distribution W.W. Norton)) replied:

"To be precise, there is an Italian-American dish called cioppino, undoubtedly based on the Ligurian ciuppin (which means nearly any sort of fish or seafood zuppa).

Armed with a geographic location and the Italian spelling, things suddenly became much easier. "We're dealing, in essence, with a fish soup put through a food mill that's closely related to the soupe of the French," writes Diego Soracco in Slow Food Editore's Ricette di Osterie e Genti di Liguria. "However, it shouldn't be confused with bouillabaisse. Ciuppin's roots, which are common to all fish stews, lie in the use of the leftovers of the catch or the market stall. It's therefore a mixture of a number of kinds of fish, all of limited commercial value, cooked with greens, herbs, and olive oil. Only with time did it develop into the refined, rich dish we know today. It's made throughout the Riviera Ligure, but is more common in the Levante (the eastern part of the Ligurian coast, towards Tuscany), especially Lavagna, Chiavari and Sestri, which appears to hold the copyright on the name."

In addition to requiring a variety of tasty fish, a good ciuppin requires good Italian-style bread -- bread whose crumb is firm, because you will want to ladle the soup over it without its becoming a soggy mess. If you have stale Italian bread on hand by all means use it, toasting it lightly before you line your soup bowls with it. Here are three Ciuppin Recipes:

Ciuppin: A traditional waterfront recipe.
Ciuppin: A slow-cooking winter recipe.
Ciuppin di Gallinella: A single-fish ciuppin, made with Tub Fish.

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