Merry Christmas from Dining With the Saints and chef Erica DeMane!

Christmas Eve

 Zuppa di Pesce with Creme Fraiche, Leeks, and Thyme

My mother often made zuppa di pesce on Christmas Eve, as part of our traditional Italian fish dinner. It was full of shellfish and calamari, sometimes lobster. Every year it was a little different, always a surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever had a fish soup I didn’t love.

Now I make zuppa di pesce for my own family, and in keeping with my mother’s style, it’s different every year. Here’s one with a base of leeks sautéed in butter and finished off with a dollop of crème fraiche. The result is rich and mellow. I’ve included only mussels and calamari in this soup, but please feel free to substitute clams or shrimp, or chunks of firm fish such as swordfish or tuna.

Have a lovely Christmas.

 (Serves Four)

 Extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 leeks, white part, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

About ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

8 large thyme sprigs, leaves lightly chopped

A small glass of dry vermouth

1 cup of light chicken broth

A 28 oz can of plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

A pound of mussels, well washed

A pound of small to medium size calamari, cut into thin rings, tentacles left whole


Black pepper

A heaping tablespoon of crème fraiche

A handful of flat leaf parsley, leaves lightly chopped

Get out a big, wide casserole type pot and put it over medium flame. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and the butter. Add the leeks and carrot and sauté until fragrant. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and thyme, and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the vermouth and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down a bit and let this simmer, uncovered, at a low bubble for about 8 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, add the mussels, giving them a good stir and cook until they’ve opened. Add the calamari and cook just until opaque, about another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Season with salt and black pepper, and add the crème fraiche. Stir, tasting for seasoning. Add the  parsley and take it to the table.

(Please visit writer and chef Erica DeMane at

2 thoughts on “Merry Christmas from Dining With the Saints and chef Erica DeMane!

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