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A few times a year I try to prepare recipes that I have never previously attempted in my life – sometimes because I lacked certain equipment, or ingredients, or nerve.  Yes, I have been intimidated by everything from Chopped Liver to Paella, MaPoDofu to Pheasant Wellington.

I found a gorgeous Paellera (a paella pan) at a church basement sale 2 days ago, and as I work up the courage to make paella in the near future, I decided to rev-up my engine by making Bouillabaisse for the first time.  I don’t know why I waited this long.

This recipe is adapted from the New York Times International Cookbook, which was gifted to me by a friend many years ago.  As I started fishing around for recipes (no pun intended) I finally settled on this recipe source, and incorporated parts of Bouillabaisse I & Bouillabaisse II.  I didn’t have any clams or mussels; however, I did have about a pound of good frozen cod, so I used that as well as some cooked and peeled frozen shrimp as a starting point.

I will record the version I adapted, but it is important to look at the original recipes, because they represent authentic approaches.  My attempt is a home-cook’s improvisation with ingredients at hand.

1 to 1-1/2# striped bass, black bass or other white, flesh,non-oily fish, about one & a half inch thick steaks

2 T olive oil

1 T butter

1 large onion, chopped (about 2 c)

1 large stalk celery, chopped

1 bay laurel leaf, dried or fresh

1 generous tsp saffron

salt & freshly ground pepper

1 cup tomato puree, plus 1 more generous cup or so of tomato pulp

generous pinch of dried thyme, or slightly more if it is fresh

1 big clove minced garlic

Tabasco sauce, several good strong dashes will do

4 c good fish stock (it can be found in some supermarkets, or you can make it w very little trouble, using fish bones, shrimp shells, etc)

about 18 shrimp (I used a 70-90 count/pound)

big pinch of anise seed, finely ground to dust

2-3 T chopped parsley

Over medium heat add the olive oil & butter to a deep, heavy vessel, adding onion, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, ground anise seed,and crumble the saffron well into the mix.  Bring to a boil, adding 1 cup of tomato, thyme and Tabasco.  I didn’t have fresh tomatoes, but I did have some very good home-canned tomatoes, so I used that – you will be using at least 2, and perhaps almost 3 cups of tomato in total.  Allow everything to simmer for 1/2 hour, after adding the fish stock, and reducing the heat to low.

After this has had a chance to mingle and the fragrances marry, and your kitchen starts to smell really good, lay your fish over the stew, cover and continue to cook gently for another 8-10 minutes.

About 5 minutes from the end of cooking add your shrimp (or other shellfish, and cook according to convention, which would otherwise be about 10 minutes)

Follow by strewing in chopped parsley, and gently incorporating, using the spoon to separate and flake the cooked fish into generous pieces that will fit onto a spoon.  If you use white wine (that would probably be about 1/2 c) and Pernod (an anise flavored liqueur- probably a Tbsp) you could add these during cooking.

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Serve with croutons – or as I did with hot buttered toast, from homemade bread.  This may not be the most faithful rendition of bouillabaisse evar, but making this helped me lose my fear of making it again.

A world famous dish can be created in your kitchen, and the grocery bill doesn’t have to be huge.  I took short cuts, but if you can lay hands on some clams, lobster or mussels – they would go in the pot, too.  The only really costly item is saffron, and there aren’t much ways around that.  It’s an overarching characteristic of the dish, in color & flavor.  You can almost eat bouillabaisse just by breathing it in.

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reach into the cookie jar above for the recipe I use!

Biscotti started to become better known in the US  outside of all the Little Italys everywhere about 15-20  years ago, although they quickly transformed into oversized affairs covered in thick sweet icings and chocolate, with a hundred different additions ranging from raspberries and white chocolate, to chocolate chips  and craisins (dried sweetened cranberries).

Everyone has their own preferences, but I tend to like mine simple and traditional – some almond or anise extract, either of which is a very traditional flavoring.  Sometimes with whole almonds or hazelnuts, and maybe one side of the finished cookie finished with a little chocolate:  That is my idea of a good time , with a cup of coffee.  After all, they are twice-baked and benefit from a dip in something wet so you don’t break your teeth on them!   So dip them in a little coffee, or wine or sherry (I don’t drink alcohol myself, but this is also a combination in the afternoon or early evening enjoyed by a lot of people around the world).  One reader from a Sicilian family says they had a soft biscotti when he was growing up!

Because this version is twice-baked (like mandelbrot or rusk) they are easier to digest, the carbohydrates having been broken down by the toasting process in the second baking.  They do traditionally have sugar and fat- including eggs- so they do also have some richness.  The anise (in the form of liquid extract or actual anise or caraway seed) points to the relative antiquity of the recipe, and to the fact that at one point they might have been intended to be an aid to digestion- as well as keeping bugs away from them, since they store well for long periods of time.  But anise also gives them a distinctive flavor that people familiar with European patisserie will recognize.   There are lost-flavors in cooking today that it would be nice to see make a comeback- rosewater, jasmine, angelica are a few others that can be found in recipes ranging from baklava to petit fours.

I’ll post the recipe I use shortly, but thought I’d put it up on the blog, because holidays are coming up and people LOVE to give and receive biscotti as gifts.  There is something special and festive about them, and while they take a little time to make, they are not intimidating to make, especially after you’ve made them once or twice.  And they are versatile- try making them with walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios (all very traditional as well)- and of course, dip them, coat them and lace them with dark, milk or white chocolate if you are a chocoholic.  There really isn’t a lot of limitation to what you can do with a standard biscotti recipe, and you can probably find some new recipe or combination to experiment with every week for a year without repeating yourself.

Mix the dough and shape it into flattish logs and bake  for about 15-20 minutes in a medium oven (about 375F) and while they’re still warm, slice them with a serrated knife.  Lay the cut biscotti out on a baking sheet and subject them to further baking, until they are golden brown and fragrant.  After they’ve cooled you can decorate them…or keep it simple and leave them unadorned.