3 quarts of broth
This soup is common in the all of the regions hugging the Adriatic, where fish trimmings of one sort or another are always available to cook into a light, flavorful broth. We had it often when we lived in Istria, whenever someone in the family was not feeling well, for its supposed restorative powers. And although children sometimes disdain “fishy” tasting food, I recall vividly savoring this broth that had the taste of the sea but was sweet and elegant, too.
In those days, we would take the fish heads and tails out of the soup pot and pluck the hidden morsels of white fish meat off the bones. In this version, you’ll strain the bones out of the broth and briefly cook some meaty (but boneless) trimmings just before serving the soup.
- For the broth:
- 3 pounds fish trimmings (such as bones, heads, tails and belly flaps) from black or striped bass, red snapper, fluke, or other non-oily fish
- 2 large onions (about 1-1/4 pounds) peeled and cut in half
- 1 garlic head, cloves peeled (a dozen or more plump cloves
- 3 or 4 carrots (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut in 4-inch chunks
- 4 big celery stalks (about 12 ounces) trimmed and cut in 4-inch chunks
- A big handful fresh Italian parsley stalks with lots of leaves (12 or more stalks)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- For serving:
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups Arborio rice
- About ½ pound skinless fish fillet, cut in small pieces (optional)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Rinse all the fish trimmings, put them in the stock pot and add 6 quarts cold water. Set over low-medium flame to heat gradually.
Set the onion halves, cut side down, directly on the grate of a stove burner over a medium flame for several minutes, until dark brown (alternatively, brown the cut sides in a heavy dry skillet.) Drop the browned onions into the stock pot along with all the other broth ingredients. Cover the pot, leaving it open a crack, and bring the water to a boil. Adjust the heat to keep it bubbling gently and cook the broth, with the lid set ajar, for 3 hours or so, until the level of the broth has reduced by about one-quarter. If it is not reducing steadily, raise the heat and remove the cover.
When the broth is full-flavored, turn off the heat. Strain the broth well through a colander and then a fine-meshed sieve. Press on the solids gently to release broth and then discard all the fish bones and seasonings.
Return the broth (or as much of it as you want to serve) and heat to a simmer in a large saucepan. Stir in ½ cup rice for every quart of broth (or more rice for denser consistency) and the pieces of fish fillet, if using. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rice is cooked (but not mushy) and the fish is tender and flakes apart in the broth. Adjust the seasoning to taste, sprinkle on the chopped parsley, and serve very hot, in warm bowls.