Last night in Tacoma I stood outside in the raw January wind and thought of Carrie's fish stew. My friend Carrie Rice lives in scenic Port Townsend, where she and her husband Rex enjoy a life filled with friends, interests, worthwhile causes, good books and films, his music and her business. Rex plays trombone and she runs Carrie's Caning, repairing or replacing hand-caned seats and backs on antique chairs. But if Carrie had a kitchen down by the docks she could get rich selling bowl and after bowl of fish stew.
My idea of what soup could be changed forever the first time my husband and I experienced it. Chunks of firm white cod, onions, peppers, navy beans, Kalamata olives, plus both diced and sun-dried tomatoes conspired to tempt us from within a rich tomato/clam juice/red wine broth, fragrant with garlic and herbs. Waiting for the steaming bowlfuls to cool seemed like torture, only partially relieved by a fresh loaf of crusty bread, a bottle of Rex's homemade wine and the good company of old friends. Nothing could better represent true Northwest hospitality.
Carrie doesn't remember where she first got the basic recipe, long ago, but by now she's made it her own, changing it here and there according to what she has on hand, what herbs are available in her garden, and seasonal prices. Any vegetables or herbs she doesn't grow herself she buys in bulk at Port Townsend's Food Co-op. Instead of canned Carrie uses her home grown tomatoes, fresh or chopped and frozen, and soaked dried beans which are pre-cooked before adding. Our first taste had Fava beans. She varies the herbs, using fresh basil when possible, dried if she has it, or whatever is out in the yard. If you decide to make this soup, you can do as you please, which is the best method for making soup anyway. Rex and Carrie believe that with things like improvised jazz solos, antiques you repair yourself, or a pot of soup on the stove, no matter how wonderful the end result may be, the artistry and joy start in the process. So when the cold wind blows may your only tears be those you get from chopping onions and may you find warmth and welcome at home with a pot of fish stew.
CARRIE'S NORTHWEST FISH STEW
1/2 cup of sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large red, yellow, or green bell pepper, chopped
2 8-oz. bottles of clam juice or the equivalent made from "Better than Bouillon" brand Clam Base
2 14-oz. cans of salt free diced tomatoes, or equivalent fresh or frozen
1 cup dry red wine or tomato juice
4 large or 5 small cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup combination of fresh herbs like basil, thyme or rosemary (go easy on the rosemary) or a lesser amount of dried
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
1 or 2 15-oz cans of navy beans, drained and rinsed, or equivalent cooked beans
About 1 lb. firm fish like cod, cut into chunks 2" in size
2 Tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly crushed
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a few hungry friends
Put the sun-dried tomatoes and about 1 3/4 cups water in a saucepan and simmer until the tomatoes are very soft. Drain and discard the water.
Using a large soup pot, saute' onion and pepper in olive oil until softened.
Process the sun-dried tomatoes and 1 bottle of clam juice in a food processor or blender until smooth and add to the pot. Add remaining clam juice, diced tomatoes, herbs, garlic, bay leaves, olives and wine, and stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Stir in beans, fish, and fennel seeds. Simmer until fish is cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle it into bowls (serves about 8) and sprinkle the cheese on top of each serving.
The good friends will already be at the table eating your bread and drinking your wine, so just pass out the bowls and enjoy!
By the way, if you have an antique chair that needs caning you can reach Carrie at email@example.com.