Based on a traditional fish soup from the Italian riviera in Liguria, this recipe is more like a fish broth. This means it’s quite easy to make and low budget because you can use cheaper types of fish. The broth is served with fried angel hair pasta, fresh parsley, lemon juice and sautéed prawns! This Italian fish soup is delicious, nutritious, and so tasty!
Seafood in Italy.
With a coastline of about 7,500 kms, it’s not surprising that seafood is an important part of the Italian kitchen, particularly for those living near the coast. Italian cuisine includes so many delicious seafood recipes, it’s almost impossible to name them all.
Each Italian region has its own traditional seafood dishes, except for the regions without a coastline; Umbria, The Aosta Valley, Piemonte, Lombardy and Trentino-Alto Adige. However, these regions have many rivers and lakes and an abundance of freshwater fish.
Pasta with seafood.
Pasta is often combined with seafood throughout Italy and some typical dishes are popular even outside of the country, for example pasta with clams or mussels, pasta with calamari or octopus and pasta with fresh tuna or swordfish. Among my favourites are seafood linguine al cartoccio (in foil) and Sicilian sardine pasta.
Italian fish soups or stews.
Needless to say, fish soup or stew is also a traditional popular seafood dish made in most Italian coastal areas. Even though Italians refer to them as ‘zuppa di pesche’ (fish soup), many of these recipes are often more like stews than soups as they include a variety of seafood (fish, shells, and crustaceans) either whole or in large pieces.
Among the most well-known of these Italian fish stews are different versions of ‘brodetto’ from Adriatic coastal regions of Romagna, Veneto, Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. Other similar stews are ‘cacciucco’ from Tuscany and ghiotta from Sicily.
Then there is ‘burridda’ from Liguria, where this Italian fish soup also comes from. Burrida is actually more a soup than a stew because the seafood is cut into small pieces and may consist of just one or two types.
The origins of this fish soup.
This Italian fish soup recipe is a version of ‘ciuppin’, a fish soup from Liguria. Ciuppin is typical with small variations in all the towns of the Riviera di Levante area of Liguria, a 130km stretch of coast between the mouth of the River Magra in Spezia province and Genova.
Ciuppin is more a fish soup or broth than a stew. The name derives from the local dialect word ‘sùppin’ meaning a type of soup that has been through a sieve. Which is exactly how this fish soup is made. This recipe is similar to Sicilian spaghetti with fish broth, known as pasta con ‘cu broru ri pisci’ in Sicilian dialect.
Although the Sicilian version traditionally includes spaghetti, Ciuppin is more often served with bread or croutons. However, I came across this version with angel hair pasta in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Not only does this fish soup recipe call for pasta instead of bread but it also includes a few large shrimp/prawns that have been sautéed before being added to the soup. Plus the broth has some dried porcini and saffron which really add fantastic flavor.
I thought it sounded delicious and it really is! The only change I made from the recipe I followed was to add some of the fish meat back into the soup. This is a rather time consuming endeavour and a little fiddly as you need to avoid bones. It’s also optional and not traditional.
Which fish go into this Italian fish soup?
Ciuppin was originally a poor dish, prepared with all the waste fish that couldn’t be sold. Today, the fish used varies depending on taste and availability. For Ligurians, the important thing is that it is fresh and from the Ligurian Sea. Fish typically used in Ciuppin are gurnard, turbot, scorpion fish, mullet, and rock fish.
I made this Italian fish soup recipe with gurnard, red mullet, and a small seabass, plus 2 prawns per person. Of course, you can use other fish. It’s important that they are quite small and have white meat. You don’t want to use blue fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring, and anchovies etc as these are oilier and have a strong flavor.
Ingredients in this fish soup.
Fish and seafood: I used gunard, red mullet and a small seabass as well as some large shrimp/prawns. The fish needs to be cleaned, descaled and cut into pieces before adding it to the broth. You can ask your fishmonger to clean the fish for you. The prawn tails are cooked separately but the heads go into the soup.
The soffrito: The ingredients for the flavor base of this fish soup are finely chopped onion, garlic and fresh parsley. I used a normal yellow onion but white or red would be fine instead.
Tomato concentrate (paste): This is what gives this fish soup its redish colour. For a less intense tomato flavour, you can use tomato passata (puree) instead.
Vegetable stock: Some Italians use plain water or fish stock, but I prefer an organic or homemade vegetable stock which adds more flavor and nutrients but isn’t as salty as fish stock.
Porcini mushrooms (ceps): You only need a few dried porcini mushrooms for this fish soup. Don’t forget to soak them in warm water for about 15-20 minutes before cooking them. Porcini add a lovely earthy umami flavor to the soup.
Bay leaf: Bay leaves add a subtle flavor to this soup. I used a fresh bay leaf from my neighbours tree! You can use dried. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before serving the soup.
Lemon: This recipe calls for the zest of one lemon. For this reason, the lemon needs to be untreated and organic. I used 1 lemon for the zest and for squeezing the juice onto the soup when serving.
Saffron: Saffron is the only spice in this Italian fish soup. A small amount of saffron goes a long way so you only need one sachet of saffron powder which usually weighs about 0.1g (100 milligrams or about a pinch!).
They say saffron tastes different to different people. For me it has a slightly sweet earthy flavour that can also be a little bitter. Omit the saffron if you don’t have it. The amount used is very tiny, and the soup will still be delicious without it.
This recipe calls for fine angel hair pasta (capelli d’angelo) but you can also use a fine spaghetti as they do in Sicily. I used angel hair pasta from De Cecco.
The pasta is cooked quickly in boiling water (angel hair pasta only needs 2 minutes cooking time). It’s then drained and fried in olive oil until slightly crispy. This not only adds a crunchy texture to the fish soup, but also prevents the pasta from becoming too soggy.
How to prepare the fish.
The preparation for this Italian fish soup involves cleaning, descaling, and washing the fish. Get your fishmonger to clean the fish for you. But, if that’s not possible you will need to gut them yourself. Check out instructions for this on Wikihow with illustrations.
For fish soup you don’t need to fillet the fish. Once it is clean cut it into 3-4 pieces. The heads and tails can go into the pot too. The shrimp/prawns just need to be washed and the heads removed. Add the heads to the soup and keep the tails aside to sauté later.
Step by Step instructions.
Step 1: Clean and prepare the fish and prawns as stated above. Put the porcini mushrooms to soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Then drain them and cut into small pieces. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Wash and chop the fresh parsley. Zest the lemon.
Step 2: Sauté the onion, garlic and parsley in 2 tablespoon olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the drained and chopped porcini and sauté for another minute or 2. Then add the tomato concentrate (paste). Stir and let it cook a little before adding a small amount of the vegetable stock (½ a cup).
Step 3: Add all the fish pieces and the shrimp/prawn heads to the pot. Stir again and mix so they get a little infused with the flavors of the aromatics, mushrooms and tomato paste.
Step 4: Next add the bay leaf, ½ the freshly grated lemon zest and a little salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook over a medium heat for another 5 minutes. Then pour in the rest of the vegetable broth.
Bring the soup to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook for about 25 minutes until the fish starts to fall off the bones.
Step 5: Pass the fish soup through a fine sieve into another smaller pot. You can discard all the fish and bones, or carefully remove some of the meat and add it back into the fish soup. Next add the saffron and stir until it dissolves.
Prepare the pasta and the prawns.
First, put a pot of water onto boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil. Then bring to a boil again. Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet. Angel hair pasta only needs 2 minutes of cooking time.
While you are waiting for the pasta water to boil, melt a little butter in a small frying pan with a couple of peeled and chopped garlic cloves. Sauté the prawn tails in the butter and garlic for about 1-2 minutes each side. You can peel the prawns before adding them to the soup or leave them unpeeled.
Finally, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Drain the pasta well and add it to the heated oil. Stir fry the pasta until it starts to crisp slightly.
Place a portion of pasta in each soup bowl. Reheat the soup, if necessary, then add a ladle or two of soup to each bowl with a couple of shrimps/prawn tails. Sprinkle more chopped parsley and lemon zest onto the soup and serve with a quarter of lemon for each person.
What to do with leftovers.
Any leftovers of this fish soup with angel hair pasta can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 days. This means you can also prepare the soup a day in advance. However, I would recommend cooking the pasta just before serving.
To reheat leftovers just simmer on the stove top over a low heat or reheat in the microwave. I don’t recommend freezing this soup.
Let me know what you think.
I think this is an outstandingly delicious Italian fish soup recipe. Plus, it’s pretty easy to make, especially if you can have your fish cleaned by your fishmonger. If you make this recipe and enjoy it as much as we did, do please leave a review/comment in the comment section below or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback means a lot to me.
If you are interested in learning how to make homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi, check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of one of my pasta recipe cookbooks or checkout some recommended pasta making tools?