musings about food, travel, creativity and life

Cioppino, Then and Now

Tonight we are going to the home of dear friends. We are looking forward to being with them and to catching up. It’s been a while. AND we are looking forward to what they are cooking–cioppino.

Growing up Italian-American in San Francisco, I was well aware of the marvels of the seafood stew called cioppino, especially crab cioppino. Both my parents were fantastic cooks, but crab cioppino was one of my dad’s specialties.

I remember going with him to Fisherman’s Wharf to choose the crabs for the feast and then returning home to help him chop the necessary vegetables and herbs and to retrieve the large–I mean large–pot for the cooking. (I still have that pot and lovingly use it for cioppino or minestrone.)   The scent of that meal cooking in our home was almost as luscious as finally tasting the cioppino when it was ready. Talk about bringing joy to the table!

Eating crab cioppino can be messy–and slurpy, noisey, fun. I still remember “first timers,” including my husband’s parents, at our family home being somewhat shocked by the raucous nature of this meal. We always provided everyone with cloth “bibs” and plenty of paper napkins and had bowls of warm water with lemon to help the more finicky guests attempt to keep their fingers somewhat clean. Good luck!

I’m not sure what recipe our friends will be using, but I know it will be grand. But as an homage to my dad and to special sensory memories, I present here my first blog recipe, and some caveats and serving ideas, for Crab Cioppino.

Buon Appetito!


Crab Cioppino

Serves 2-3


l/4 cup olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped fine

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped fine

1/2 bunch Italian parsley, leaves chopped fine

1 small red pepper, chopped

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, basil

2 cleaned, cracked, cooked Dungeness crabs

1 large can (28 oz.) solid packed tomatoes

1 medium size can (15 oz.) tomato sauce

1/2 cup clam juice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 small can (2.25 oz) chopped olives

4 T. butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Spaghetti or linguine, 4 ounces per person


Heat the olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley, red pepper, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, and basil and sauté for five minutes. Add the cleaned and cracked crabs and sauté for another two minutes. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon, and their liquid. Pour in the tomato sauce, clam juice and wine and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Near the end of the cooking time, add the chopped olives and butter and allow butter to melt.  Season to taste—light on the salt, liberal with pepper.

Caveats and Serving Ideas: We always served the sauce over spaghetti or linguine as a first course, reminding people to be careful of crab shell pieces that might have broken off in the sauce. Then we would serve the crab as a stand-alone second course, with lots of sourdough bread for sopping up the extra sauce. We’d use “crab crackers” (actual nutcrackers) for cracking the crab shells, and little forks for digging out the crab meat.



P.S. For those who read my last post about glassybaby votive candles, I am here to report I bought a dark brown one called Chocolate. For those who know me, that probably comes as no surprise! Its accompanying description is: “when she was younger she loved the Hershey’s milk chocolate, but with age she became a connoisseur and prefers it dark–74% cacao to be precise.”

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