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Cosmic Soup


Origins homepage

What does soup have to do with the origins of life? It turns out that the recipe for a rich soup resembles the recipe for life as we know it. Each generation of stars enriches the cosmic broth out of which the next generation forms, until, after cooking for billions of years, the cosmic soup is rich enough and concentrated enough to form planets and people. Likewise, as a cook prepares his or her broth, adding ingredients and flavors over time, the soup becomes rich enough and concentrated enough to serve.

In the NOVA program "Origins," Union Square Cafe executive chef and partner Michael Romano joins series host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the kitchen for a lesson on the multiple stages of cooking up a hearty fish soup. Fortunately, Chef Romano's Cosmic Soup doesn't take billions of years to make. In fact, he will have it on the Union Square Cafe menu on September 28 and 29, 2004, the dates that the program premieres. In case you miss it there, however, we offer Chef Romano's recipe below.

NOVA "Origins"
COSMIC SOUP
(serves 6-8)


FISH STOCK
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup peeled and sliced onions
1 cup sliced leeks, cleaned white and light green parts only
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 fresh thyme sprig
3 parsley sprigs
1 small bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 pound fish bones, cleaned and chopped (from white-fleshed fish such as flounder, sole, bass, or snapper)
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups cold water

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 3-quart stockpot or saucepan. Add the vegetables, herbs, and peppercorns and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes.

  2. Raise the heat to high, add the fish bones, and stir well for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

  3. Add the cold water, lower the heat to medium, and slowly bring the stock to a boil. Skim the surface with a ladle to remove any foam that rises. Lower the heat and simmer very slowly for 45 minutes.

  4. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth and chill over ice. Refrigerate up to 4 days, or freeze for future use.


FISH BROTH
2 tablespoons olive oil
Reserved shrimp shells (see below)
2 cups peeled and sliced onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
Reserved tomato juice, strained (see below)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 cups Fish Stock (see above)


THE FINAL STEW
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, washed
2 cups cored, quartered, and thinly sliced fennel bulb
1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced yellow potatoes, 1/4-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped, juices strained and reserved
18 littleneck, manila, or other small clams
1 pound monkfish or other firm-fleshed white fish, filleted and cut into 2-inch chunks
18 small mussels, beards removed and scrubbed
1/2 pound medium shrimp, cleaned, shells reserved for the broth
3/4 pound cleaned calamari, cut into 1/4-inch rings
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over high heat, add the shrimp shells, and sauté, stirring well for 3 to 4 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, stir in the onions, and cook until they are tender but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.

  2. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute to dissolve. Add the white wine or vermouth and reduce by half. Add the tomato juice, parsley, thyme and bay leaf, and cook 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the fish stock, bring slowly to a boil, and skim any foam from the surface with a small ladle. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Strain in a colander set over a bowl, pressing the solids to extract the maximum amount of broth. The broth can be prepared several days ahead up to this point and held, covered refrigerated, or up to 2 months frozen.

  3. To prepare the seafood, heat the olive oil over moderate heat in the soup pot and sauté the leeks, fennel, potatoes, saffron and garlic until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring.

  4. Pour in the reserved fish broth and bring to a simmer. Add the clams and monkfish and cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until the clams open. Add the mussels and shrimp and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mussels open. Add the calamari and cook an additional minute. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle the stew into a warm soup tureen, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve.

© 2004 Michael Romano



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