Sam and I love cioppino, the tomato-based stew filled with chunks of white fish, shrimp, clams, mussels and whatever other seafood scraps the fishmonger has on hand. Cioppino was invented in San Francisco, and I can see why: the Bay and ocean provided plentiful seafood and the foggy weather begged a hot, filling stew to warm you up.
Making cioppino at home can be an elaborate and expensive process because it requires so many different kinds of seafood, which is why I usually get my cioppino fill by ordering it at a restaurant. When we’re craving cioppino but want to eat at home, we make a pared-down version—Baked Tilapia with Fennel-Scented Tomato Sauce. This recipe has become a staple in our kitchen because it can be on the table in less than 45 minutes and we usually have everything in the pantry except the tilapia.
Tilapia is a fairly inexpensive and sustainable seafood choice. When you’re buying tilapia, you’ll probably only find farmed tilapia. The Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends U.S. farmed tilapia as a “Best Choice.” (South American tilapia is a “Good Alternative,” while one should “Avoid” Asian Tilapia.)
If you’re anticipating a busy evening, make the sauce the night before and store it in the refrigerator. You could even make several batches of the sauce and store it in the freezer, ready for whenever you need a quick meal.
Recipe adapted from The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook.
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ large onion, sliced
2 (15 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with juice (this also tastes wonderful with in-season fresh tomatoes!)
¼ cup dry white wine
2 (3 x 1-in.) pieces orange peel
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
? teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 (4-5 oz.) tilapia fillets (or other firm white fish fillets)
Make the Baked Tilapia with Fennel-Scented Tomato Sauce
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over low heat. When hot, add the onions and sauté until soft but not caramelized, about 8 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their juice, white wine, orange peel, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. Stir occasionally and simmer for about 12 minutes, until sauce is slightly reduced. For a smoother sauce, blend with an immersion blender. For a chunky sauce, leave as is.
Place the tilapia fillet in a medium baking dish. Salt and pepper both sides of the fillets and top with the tomato sauce. Bake for 6-7 minutes, until fish is opaque in the center. Serve with crusty French or Italian bread and a green salad.