Brodetto di pesce (or brodeto de pesse in dialect) is found in many different regions along the Adriatic coast of Italy. Traditionally made by fishermen with fish they could not sell, it is somewhere between a fish stew and a fish soup. It was one of my father’s favorite dishes. On the weekend I took some red snapper I had bought at the Victoria Market over to my mother’s and I asked if she could make brodetto with it. “Quanto che el brodeto de pesse ghe piazeva a tuo papà !” she exclaimed in dialect (“How your father loved fish stew”).
Mamma is from inland Veneto and she did not grow up eating fish. Or cooking with garlic. Incredible really, considering how she can’t make a savory dish without garlic now. My father (like many Italian men) believed good food was of the utmost importance and it had to be cooked his way. And as he was from Pola, on the Adriatic Sea, it meant lots of seafood and garlic. He liked his polenta hard, so mamma, who preferred soft polenta, made it hard. He liked his risotto dry, so mamma, who liked rather soupy risotto, made it dry. She was a good Italian wife from the 1950s, and thus she changed her way of eating to his way. I suspect if she was born in this generation, things might have been quite different!! In the photo below, my mother is flattening the cooked polenta with a plate so we can cut slices of it.
There are many different ways of making brodetto di pesce. I love the way my mother makes it, maybe just because I have grown up eating it or probably because it is so simple and delicious. The sauce is made by slowly braising onion, anchovies, garlic and white wine and the chilli and paprika added later give the dish a bit of a kick. The fish is cooked separately and added when the sauce is almost complete. Fresh parsley is scattered on at the end. Brodetto is lovely on soft (or even on hard) polenta or with fresh crusty bread. There won’t be any leftovers, I can almost guarantee it!
Brodetto di pesce
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
pinch chilli flakes
1/2 glass dry white wine
400g hard fleshed white fish fillets
1 tablespoon of plain white flour
1/2 tin peeled tomatoes
Parsley leaves (small handful), roughly chopped
olive oil (for cooking)
salt and pepper to taste
100g coarse yellow polenta
1/2 litre boiling water
salt to taste
50g unsalted butter
Add a good splash of olive oil to a saucepan and add the onions and anchovies. Cook on a medium-low heat for around ten minutes until the onions are translucent and the anchovies have fallen apart. If it become a bit dry, add half of the wine. Add the garlic and the remaining wine. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes (including the juice), chilli and paprika. Cover the saucepan with a lid, put the heat on low and allow to simmer whilst you prepare the fish.
Cut the fish into large chunks and toss in flour. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frypan that will fit all the fish and then cook the fish. Cook the fish until it becomes white, turning as needed with tongs. Once the fish is cooked, drain and place the cooked fish in the tomato sauce. Stir gently and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes on low heat to allow the flavours in infuse. add half of the parsley just before serving, keeping a bit aside for garnish at the end. Serve with polenta or crusty fresh bread to mop up the delicious sauce.
The recipe for polenta is here (the recipe above has halved quantities) though I leave out the parmigiano when I make polenta to eat with fish.