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Brodetto: a different kettle of fish

Brodetto: a different kettle of fish

by Great Italian Chefs 22 May 2018

All along the coast of Marche, fishermen return with small fry that never make it to market. Instead, these scraps become brodetto – a delicious fish soup that is a hallmark of Marchigiani cuisine.


For centuries, the sea has been a vital resource for the people of Marche. The Adriatic is bursting at the seams with fish – from meaty swordfish and tuna to mackerel, sardines, red mullet and more – and as you travel around the region, you’ll see an abundance of fresh fish and seafood in restaurants and markets. The Adriatic is a rare case of quality and quantity going hand in hand, too – its fish are so high grade, they're exported all over the world.

There are lots of reasons for foodies to explore Marche, but hunting down a bowl of brodetto should be high on the list for any seafood lovers. This traditional fish soup is a staple on menus all over Marche, and is an important part of the region's rich gastronomic tapestry. Like many of the best things in Italian cuisine, it started life as humble peasant food – not everything a fisherman catches can be sold, but nothing goes to waste in Italy, and brodetto originated as a way to use all the scraps and small catch that would be left over from a day’s fishing.

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The fishermen of the Adriatic started making brodetto as a way to use their unwanted small catch
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Exact recipes for the dish vary from town to town, but they always include a mixture of fresh fish and seafood in a tomato-based broth or soup

Cast your eye across Europe, and you’ll see that this common thread runs between fishing communities all over the continent. Fishermen in the south of France invented bouillabaisse as a way to feed themselves when they returned to port, using unwanted rockfish and shellfish, and sopa de pescado in Spain and caldeirada in Portugal have similar origins in this sustainable peasant cooking tradition.

Like its European cousins, brodetto has evolved to become more than a soup of fish scraps. Make your way down the Adriatic coast and you’ll find every town has its own variation, with many using whole cuts of fish and seafood rather than the offcuts of the past. In the beautiful fishing town of San Benedetto del Tronto, brodetto is made with green tomatoes and peppers. Further north in Pesara, you'll find a more traditional brodetto, made with plenty of ripe tomatoes, but brodetto di Ascoli in the south arrives without a single tomato in sight, laced instead with strings of golden saffron.

Perhaps the best known and most eaten of all is brodetto all’Anconetana – the brodetto of the capital, Ancona. The soup here is steeped in a tradition all of its own: brodetto all’Anconetana must contain thirteen different types of fish and seafood from the sea of Ancona, though opinion on why is divided. Some believe it has religious origins, commemorating the thirteen participants of the last supper, both others say it represents the thirteen masks of the Fontana del Calamo – the ancient fountain in the middle of Ancona. No matter the origins, the result is delicious; a fragrant broth made from the best fish and seafood the Adriatic has to offer, cooked with a simple base of onion, garlic, parsley and tomatoes, served with toasted bread.

In all its forms, brodetto is everything that we love about Italian food – simple, humble and delicious, taking a few fantastic things and bringing them together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Wherever you find yourself in Marche, there's bound to be a bowl of brodetto just around the corner.

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