Fish stew is a perfect reminder of the warm French sunshine

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By: Rachel Shenk

Photo supplied/James B. Shenk

It’s that time of year again. Only five days ago, Jim and I left the northwestern Indiana winter behind for what has become our annual trip to the south of France.

This time, we can both smell it and see it before we arrive. After two months of snow covered ground and face biting cold, our heads are filled with images of sunshine and palm trees.

After a long flight and a short stopover in Paris, we fly south on the fast train to the Provence region of France. And sure enough, the sunshine and palm trees are “au rendez-vous.”

We never tire of our stay here in Le Brusc, a small fishing village on the tip of a cape that juts out into the blue, blue waters of the Mediterranean. A popular spot for French vacationers in the summer, it is mostly sleepy at this time of year.

Our vacation cottage sits back from the road. The rosemary hedge is blooming as are the daffodils outside our door. Doves coo in the rafters of our patio and when the sun warms the stucco walls, the lizards scamper out of their hiding places.

Claude is happy to see us and we receive the usual greeting given to good friends, a kiss on each cheek with a hug.

Every Wednesday, the next town over holds its outdoor market along the harbour’s edge. Our mission this time around is to get all the ingredients for a traditional Provençal fish stew recipe.

The five kilometer walk to the market follows the Mediterranean shoreline. It’s a clear day, so the views are incredible: a rugged shoreline with a few harbours and beaches, mountains in the background, a mix of sun and water that makes us forget our snowy home.

Once arrived, we wend our way through the aisles of booths. Market vendors sell everything from loose spices to underwear. A stop at the fishmonger’s fills our bags with cod, monkfish and mussels.

The green grocer carries all the vegetables we need, except for parsley, which I get at the next booth over, and anchovies, which I buy at the olive stand. OK, I also get a few olives to munch on for lunch.

And since I’m thinking about cheese these days, I make a stop at the cheese booth for some Morbier (here in the U.S., we are not even allowed to eat this cheese!)

Our bag is full. It’s time to go. Back in Le Brusc, we buy bread at the bakery before climbing up the hill to our cottage. Darkness is now falling, the doves are asleep. We close the shutters to the outside and start making the soup.

As it simmers, the smell of saffron and peppers fill the room. Let’s add the fish, and now the mussels. Add parsley on top and fresh bread on our plates.

That first bite brings the taste of the sea to our cottage and in it, all the memories of walking in the sun and wind of southern France. And the bottle of rosé given to us as a welcoming gift makes the perfect addition!

Provençal Fish Stew

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ large red pepper, chopped
  • ½ fennel bulb, chopped
  • ½ tsp. saffron threads
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 oil-packed anchovies, minced
  • 3 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 strips of orange zest
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ lb. cod, chopped into large pieces
  • ½ lb. monkfish, chopped into large pieces
  • 8 mussels
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, red pepper, fennel, saffron and cayenne and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  2. Add the anchovies and garlic and sauté another minute. Add half of the wine, bring to a boil and cook for 2 more minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the wine, water, tomatoes, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 25 minutes.
  4. Discard the orange zest and add the cod and monkfish. Simmer uncovered for five minutes, until the fish flakes.
  5. Place mussels on top, cover and simmer for five minutes until the mussels open. Throw out the ones that don’t open.
  6. Sprinkle the parsley on top and serve.
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