Happy Valentimes! Surely to god you’re staying cozily at home this Sunday, just you and your amour, firing meaningful glances at one another across the dining-room table covered in unpaid bills. Do I have a recipe for you!

It’s Zuppa di Frigging Pesce. And it’s my pop’s. (Those of you who read the comments will know him by his mysterious avatar, “Father – Dad.”)

It translates as fish soup but it’s more like a stew. And since this particular recipe includes saffron, fennel and a surprising hit of citrus, it leans toward bouillabaisse, the French version of the dish.

“Father – Dad” has really perfected this zuppa over time, especially the adding of the fish to the pot in a particular way so it doesn’t overcook or break apart into unrecognizable shards. He and Norm serve it at family suppers (especially on Wayne the pescatarian’s birthday) over tagliatelle, which makes it stretch a bit, and makes it a little more filling. The quantity below serves 8, but you can half it. (Six ounces per person is a good rule of thumb for the fish.) Or cook the whole lot and avoid having to plan or cook a meal the next day – isn’t that romantic.

For Valentimes, skip the pasta. Substitute a stick of crusty French or Italian bread, which you can wantonly rip apart with your claws and dip into your broth while making tiger noises at each other. Green salad. Chocolate-covered ginger finalé. The rest you figure out.

I say no pasta, because of James Beard’s position on Valentine dining, which has stayed with me through the years. Back in the day, when I worked at Saturday Night magazine, we commissioned Beard to produce a series of illustrated recipes. For Valentine’s, the menu was odd: It opened with lettuce soup and moved on to a few other insignificant green vegetable things and no dessert (if I remember correctly). His theory was that what you really need on February 14 is a quick-to-digest dinner, so as not to tax the gears of the love machine. I certainly don’t want lettuce soup this Sunday, but I see the reasoning. Two bloated snoring bellies crashed out on the couch by 9 p.m. isn’t exactly the point.

Instead, ecco la zuppa:

2 white leeks, chopped

1/2 fennel, sliced thin (or a few ribs of celery, chopped)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp oregano

1 red pepper, diced

1 cup white wine

1 tbsp grated orange rind

2 cans diced tomato with their juices

1 to 2 cups fish stock (or as much or as little to create the right stewiness for your amount of seafood. And watch out. When you put your cod in the pot, it will release a bit of liquid too, and you don’t want the whole thing too wet)

1 tsp saffron (optional)

1 small potato, peeled and grated

2 cans clams with their liquid

Mussels (3 per person)

Cod (a pound and a half)

Shrimp (a pound and a half)

A handful of flat Italian parsley (optional)

In a large soup pot, sautée leek, fennel, garlic and oregano for 5 minutes, over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper it, too.

Add red pepper, wine and orange rind. Cook, reducing wine, for 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes, stock (see note above, in Ingredients) and saffron. Drop the grated potato into the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, then simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes.

Add mussels and cod. Stir gently and cook for 10 minutes, till cod is opaque.

Add shrimp and the clams with their liquid. Cook for 2 minutes, until shrimp are pink.

Stir in a little chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley for colour.

Then tuck right in, Shug. And watch the sparks fly.


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