A dish we find in all Italian ports is fish soup, and on the Adriatic we call it brodetto. There is a friendly rivalry between Marche and Emilia-Romagna over where it started, and here in Marche there are three main types, from Fano, Porto Recanati and San Benedetto del Tronto.
Brodetto has always been made from trawler fish. Fano was once the second largest fishing port on the Adriatic and boats left for a week at a time. They cast the nets, dragged them on the bottom and brought them up every half hour to sort the fish. Brodetto was born on board.
People say it was made with less prized fish, but that’s not true — for brodetto they used the spoiled fish in the fillet, which gave rise to the adage, “The worse they were fishing, the better they ate.’ They did it during the last days of their trip, when their bread had hardened, so they put that in the mix too. And since they had no fresh vegetables on board, they added tomato puree and wine. San Benedetto’s version is slightly different: their valley is full of green tomatoes and peppers, so they would pickle them and take them on board.
In almost every brodetto you will find gurnard, redfish and some kind of cephalopod – perhaps a squid or a cuttlefish. There are no clams or mussels as they are only trawler fish. It’s like that on the Adriatic; on the Tyrrhenian side there is a similar soup, cacciucco, but they use octopus as a base, which changes the taste.
Here in Fano we have the brodetto alla fanese, handed down by the old cook fishermen. Seven of us wrote down the official recipe and had it stamped by a notary. We call ourselves the Brodetto Confraternity. Now we have about 40 members and every month we travel the province, eat brodetto or have speakers talk about the ingredients.
To make it, you start with a garlic and onion soffritto. You need to add more garlic if using more shellfish as they are sweet. if you have a fish base, you need more onion. Then you add the squid, followed by the tomato paste mixed with water and vinegar. Let it evaporate until the smell of vinegar disappears, then add the fish, cook for 18 minutes and it’s ready.
The method of cooking depends on who is cooking it.
On the boats, we cooked in thin and high pots because of the rolling; in the brotherhood, a pan of 120 cm in diameter is used, and up to 70 kg of fish are added. We add fresh bread which we bake for two minutes as a reminder of the old fashioned bread they used to eat. In the restaurant, we also do a more modern version with a fish carpaccio. My mum was the first cook here – she’s 90 now, but still comes over for lunch or dinner.