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Provençal Fish "Chowder"
    Serves 6 generously
For the Fumet
1 pound fish trimmings (heads and bones), rinsed
1 onion, quartered
1 medium-sized carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
  a bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, a few parsley sprigs and a few sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 quarts water
  salt to taste
1 cup dry white wine
For the Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4-6 large garlic cloves (to taste), minced or put through a press
2 28-ounce cans tomatoes, with their juice, seeded and chopped
  salt to taste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried
1 pound white new or waxy potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 pound zucchini, or a mixture of summer squashes, diced; in winter use pumpkin or winter squash
2 wide strips orange peel
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  freshly ground pepper to taste
  kernels from 2 ears fresh corn, in season
  pinch or 2 of cayenne, or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 pounds fish fillets or steaks, such as red snapper, striped bass, mahi-mahi, cod, monkfish, swordfish, halibut, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil
For the Garnish
24 mussels or clams
1 cup dry white wine
  chopped fresh parsley
  lemon wedges

1. Make the fumet. Combine the fish trimmings, vegetables and bouquet garni with the water and a little salt in a large soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Skim off all of the foam that rises. Continue to skim until no foam remains, then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add the wine and simmer another 10 minutes, covered. Remove from the heat and strain at once through a fine sieve or a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion. Sauté, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes, and add half the garlic. Stir together for a minute, until the garlic begins to color, and add the tomatoes and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes cook down and smell fragrant, about 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining garlic, the fumet, the bay leaf, thyme, the potatoes, and winter squash if using, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add the orange peel, the saffron and the summer squash and simmer another 10 minutes, until the squash is cooked through but still colorful, and the broth aromatic. Add lots of ground pepper and adjust salt.

3. While the stew is simmering, prepare the mussel or clam garnish. Clean the mussels or clams in several changes of cold water. Pull out the beards if using mussels, brush and let soak for 15 minutes in a bowl of water to which you have added 1 tablespoon vinegar. Rinse and discard any mussels or clams with broken shells. Bring the wine to a boil in a large, lidded pot and add the mussels or clams. Steam 5 minutes, or until the shells open up, shaking the pan once to distribute the shellfish evenly. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside. Discard any that have not opened.

4. Ten minutes before you wish to serve the soup, bring to a simmer. Add the corn kernels and the fish. Give the soup a stir, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Check the fish, and if not cooked through, simmer another 5 minutes. Remove the orange rind and the bay leaf. Stir in the basil, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve at once, garnishing each bowl with a few mussels or clams, a sprinkle of parsley, and a lemon wedge.


Advance preparation: The fumet will hold for several hours once strained. The tomato base for the soup, up until the point where the fumet is added, can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated. The entire soup, without the fish, will keep for several hours on top of the stove. Bring to a simmer, add the fish as directed and serve.

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