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As a kid, one of my favorite activities was stirring the simmering tomato sauce that my dad was making (he's the food lover and cook of my parents), mostly because I loved using a wooden spoon to scrape the sides of the pan, where the sauce crept up and thickened, resulting in a sweet, concentrated tomato flavor. This is probably why making tomato sauce was one of the first things that I learned to cook and why I find the process so meditative (and delicious).
Of course, for this seafood-centric recipe, ripe summer tomatoes are best to make a fresh sauce, but you can still make cioppino year-round using a can of whole peeled tomatoes. A quick note on the tomato peeling front—in general, I'm all for skipping the blanching step to remove the skins (which involves placing the tomatoes in boiling water for about 10 to 15 seconds then cooling them in an ice bath so you can easily remove the skins), because I personally like the way they taste (and it saves some time). I also love the seeds and basically follow the philosophy 'embrace all things tomato!' (except for sun-dried, but that's for another day's discussion).
Cioppino is one of my favorite recipes because it comes together quickly, has a ton of flavor, and feels like an adventure as you uncover different bites of seafood lurking in the tomato broth. It reminds me of one of the best meals I had when I was in Deauxville, a seaside town in France with little in the way of entertainment beyond a local farmers market chock-full of fresh fish, vegetables, bread, and wine.
I'd recommend this as the centerpiece of a late-summer feast, perhaps with some nice music in the background, and even pouring a cup of the wine you're drinking into the sauce for continuity and extra liquid. You might see a lot of recipes calling for bottled clam juice to add to the stew for that extra bit of sea flavor and liquid, but I find it too salty, and I like the freshness of the ingredients to really shine through. If you're not going to add wine, then add some broth or stock instead to thin out the sauce.
Whatever you do, make sure to serve it with some thick, toasted bread drizzled with olive oil, either lining the bottom of your bowl or served on the side —or, if the mood is right, opt for both!
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