Flavors bring back memories of places, and, for me, few things evoke the coastal regions of the Mediterranean world like a good fish soup.
Maybe it’s because I always go for the local fish soup in coastal towns, like the sopa de pescado I enjoyed in Hondarribia, Spain, or the traditional Basque ttoro served just over the French border in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, loaded with seafood and the tingly heat of Espelette pepper. I recall the garlicky zuppa di pesce I stumbled upon on the twisted streets of Venice years ago and the classic bouillabaisse I enjoyed with college friends by the harbor in Marseille, with tiny fish plucked live from a tank by the open kitchen. I can still taste the olive oil, tomatoes, white wine, and garlic.
Many of those regional fish soups take advantage of saffron, and I use it in this dish to help bring out the Mediterranean flavors. Saffron is expensive, but a pinch goes a long way, and just a gram (at $10 or so) will last you a year or more if you use it once in a while, as I do. The key to this dish is to add the fish at the very end and serve the soup right away, so that your seafood doesn’t get overcooked.
Serve it with a garlic-rubbed toast and a nice glass of white wine.
Mediterranean Fish Soup with Saffron and Garlic Toast
For the soup:
- 1 medium onion
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- a good pinch of hot pepper flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- A good pinch of saffron
- 1½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 quart fish stock
- 1 15- ounce cans of white beans like cannellini or great northern
- 1½ pound meaty fish fillets like cod, salmon, halibut and/or shellfish of any kind (lobster tail would be great!)
- Parsley for garnish.
For the garlic toasts:
- 1 baguette
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
Heat a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. While it is getting hot, chop the onion and peel and chop four cloves of garlic, leaving the remaining garlic clove whole for later.
When the pot is heated, add the olive oil, onions, and garlic with the hot pepper flakes and some salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but have not turned brown.
Pour in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan gently with a wooden spoon to release any bits. When the wine is bubbling, add the saffron and stir gently, letting the saffron dissolve into the wine. Add the tomatoes and the fish stock with some salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, prep the remaining ingredients. Slice the fish into good-sized chunks and rinse and drain the beans. Cut some nice slices of baguette at an angle, peel the remaining garlic clove, and get some olive oil ready in a little bowl with a brush.
Add the beans and fish to the pot and simmer until the fish is just under-done, about 4-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. It will continue cooking as you serve it.
While the fish is cooking, brush the bread slices with olive oil and toast them until they are crisp. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the garlic on the bread.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with the parsley and serve with the garlic toasts.