serves: 6 servings
In the coastal areas of Basilicata, the varied catch of the day is the basis of this uncomplicated yet very tasty fish soup. Here I recommend using monkfish and grouper fillets, both with firm texture, so they won't fall apart in the zuppa. Halibut is another good choice. Indeed, many varieties of fish and shellfish can be prepared this way, as long as you adjust the cooking time so the flesh remains intact and avoid overcooking. If using clams or mussels, use a wider pot, so the shells do not break the meaty fish as they open. For a more substantial dish, place a slice of grilled or toasted country bread, in each soup bowl before ladling in the zuppa di pesce.
1 pound grouper fillet, with skin
1 pound monkfish fillet, membrane removed
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
2 cups water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon peperoncino
1½ cups white wine
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups scallions , trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
Cut the grouper and monkfish into six portions each, and season on all sides with salt. Spread flour on a plate, and dredge all the fish pieces, lightly coating all sides. Meanwhile, heat a couple of cups of water to the simmer in a small pan or kettle.
Pour the oil in a big saucepan, set it over medium-high heat, scatter in the garlic and peperoncino, and cook for a minute or so, until they're sizzling. Quickly lay the fish pieces in the pan in a single layer, shaking off any loose flour before they go in, and placing the grouper pieces skin side down. Leave as much space as possible between the pieces. Without moving the pieces, fry the fish on the first side for about 2 minutes, until a light crust forms. Flip the pieces over, and sear the second side for 2 minutes or so, until lightly colored and crusted, then remove all the fish to a large plate. Raise the heat, and pour in the white wine and 1 1/2 cups of the hot water. Drop in the thyme sprigs and the remaining salt, and bring the liquids to a boil. Let them bubble for 5 minutes or so, until the volume has reduced by about a third. Lay the fish pieces back in the saucepan, toss in the scallions, and simmer for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Sprinkle on the vinegar and chopped parsley; stir and swirl the pan to blend them with the zuppa. Turn off the heat, and serve immediately in warm shallow soup bowls. If you've toasted or grilled bread slices, or prepared patate lessate con diavolicchio to go with the soup, set a bread slice in each bowl first, then lay the fish pieces on top.