Aunt Helen's Cioppino

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Digging through an old dusty file cabinet at K&L last year, I came across an odd scrap of paper—a recipe!

Curious, I called over the cubicle wall toward the adjacent office of K&L's owner: “Hey Clyde, do you know anything about this recipe for Aunt Helen’s Cioppino”?

“Ah yes” he said, “that’s my Aunt’s recipe. We used to include a recipe in all of our monthly wine newsletters, way (way) back in the day.”

Wow Wow Wow! A ghost of Christmas past! Jingle bells started going off in my head. Clyde’s family has some DEEP Italian roots and I was pretty sure that I had just stumbled upon some serious gastronomic gold.

Only one thing left to do: make the darn recipe!

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And make it we did. After wincing at the 2/3 cup olive oil and crying over the entire stick of butter required, we all ultimately agreed that calories be damned; the recipe was an absolute winner! The kind of magic where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. A few minutes after adding the seafood, Aunt Helen’s broth became both rich and briny, the mirepoix of vegetables and herbs creating a dish much more complex and elegant than we were expecting. Yes, the presentation is rustic and messy…and you will probably need a bib. But as a special holiday meal, it’s TOTALLY worth it. I can’t wait to make it again this year!

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In terms of wine, there is probably not one perfect pairing, but you could happily go a couple of different ways. A light red wine like this biodynamic Chianti from Panzano highlights the herbal tomato broth notes. (plus everyone will want a photo of you holding the classic Fiasco bottle in your ugly Christmas sweater)  You could also offer a fuller bodied white like this under-the-radar fantastic Aussie Chardonnay or something a bit lighter with a Petite Chablis, which is a natural with the shellfish and (an entire stick of) butter. 

Below is my go-to source for the seafood – all perfectly proportioned for your cioppino feast!

Happy Holidays to everyone—especially Aunt Helen!

And, stay tuned as I attempt to unearth more of these recipes from the K&L vault!

-Cindy Westby

Cindy Westby