The new mayor and the sea

Posted 11/19/20


1 chopped yellow pepper

1 onion, quartered

6 garlic cloves, chopped

3 T olive oil

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1 cup of full-bodied wine (I use Zinfandel)

2 8-oz. …

The News + Record is worth reading!

We’re all about Chatham County, and we welcome you to our site. You can view up to 3 stories each month, then registration is required.

Please sign in below if you have an account. If not, please register here to get an account and an additional 7 stories each month. It’s easy and takes just a minute.

Our staff works hard to bring good journalism, writing and story-telling to Chatham County. HELP US! You can get the News + Record mailed to you weekly by subscribing here.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The new mayor and the sea

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.



1 chopped yellow pepper

1 onion, quartered

6 garlic cloves, chopped

3 T olive oil

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1 cup of full-bodied wine (I use Zinfandel)

2 8-oz. bottles of clam juice

1 cup of white wine

The following spices:

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon oregano

For the seafood, I use:

Sea scallops


Peeled and deveined shrimp




Crab legs


Chop onion and garlic and sauce in a big pot with olive oil. Add the pepper and spices. Cook about five minutes until veggies start to soften. Add tomatoes, wine, and 1 bottle of clam juice, and bring to medium-high heat until sauce starts bubbling.

In a separate pan, add clam juice and 1 cup of white wine. Add mussels and clams and bring to a boil. Turn off and let sit for five minutes.

In the meantime, add remaining seafood to sauce and cook for about seven minutes. Pick out all clams and mussels that have opened and add to stew. Let sit for about 10 minutes to let the flavors mix. Serve in large bowls and make sure to put out bowls for the shells.

For many years, I started off a holiday event with this recipe, called Fantasy Shrimp. It was a huge favorite. Simple to make. Also, a great thing to bring to a potluck.

Fantasy Shrimp Appetizer

1 lb. cooked and shelled shrimp, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1/4 cup chopped scallions

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

42 slices of petite cocktail rye toasts.

Mix ingredients (except rye toast). Refrigerate for two hours. Spoon mix on toasts and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Place on platter and serve. Use some dill on the platter to add color.

I have to admit it, Gentle Reader, I deprive Petey and The Kid.

Fish just ain’t my thing. I like tuna from a can, McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, and the occasional clam strip. But the other members of the Matthews Family Band love just about anything from fresh or saltwater. The Kid was eating sushi at age 6.

And seafood can be tricky to buy, prepare, and cook. It goes wonky quickly and easily. Frozen fish is sometimes treated with scary chemicals. Frozen shellfish doesn’t always come from pristine waters, and what they eat is what they are — good or bad.

Cooking it is a balancing act. There is a small window of not under, not over, but perfectly cooked. It’s a skill that comes from experience, but that means cooking lots of it, and as you may have guessed, I don’t.


This is why other than the occasional new twist on Charlie Tuna (try mixing in sunflower seeds), you won’t get seafood recipes from me.

But I understand that people love seafood. And, I know that some of you are not afraid to cook fish and would appreciate a new recipe for it every now and then.

Thus, like my own family who must leave home to get their own cravings met, to offer you some good recipes, I must roam far afield.

I am endlessly fascinated by others’ edible lives. In the before times, I could sit for hours in the snack bar of Costco, watching and judging what folks have purchased. In the grocery store, when there is a long wait at the checkout, instead of perusing the tabloids to see who’s dating who and whose baby Jennifer Aniston is having this week, I study the carts of fellow shoppers.

When I get the ear of interesting people, I love to find out the kind of things they cook and eat.

Recently, I had a conversation with Mary-Ann Baldwin, the powerhouse female elected mayor of Raleigh a year ago, just months before we all encountered the “most interesting” year in modern memory. We talked food, which was probably a relief from the non-stop challenges she’s been dealing with in her work of shepherding N.C.’s capital city in 2020.

Festa dei sette pesci, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is an Italian-American tradition going back to Southern Italian immigrants to New York in the 1800s. It hearkens back to the Italian tradition of “The Vigil,” waiting, on Christmas Eve, for the feast of the birth of baby Jesus. The day before feast days are normally meatless — thus the fish-centric menus.

In the Catholic church, fasting and abstinence play a large part. Fasting is refraining from all but water and medicine, and abstinence refers to the type of food one mustn’t eat. The money saved from this observance is supposed to be given to the poor.

Mayor Mary-Ann and I discussed holiday entertaining, and she described the kind of event she’d have, “If I were hosting … over the Christmas holiday, I would build it around the Italian tradition of ‘seven fishes,’ something our family celebrated over many years on Christmas Eve — until my daughter married her sweet husband who is allergic to shellfish! But I did it a different way. I incorporated seven fishes into a dish I love. Cioppino.”

So, Gentle Reader, thanks to Mayor Baldwin, I finally have a fish dish to offer. And one I’m told, very popular among fish-o-philes.

Please enjoy.

“This soup dates back to San Francisco’s Italian and Portuguese immigrants,” the mayor says. “I adapted it from several recipes. Make sure you have great bread for dipping. Here we go.”

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Subscribe to The Chatham Brew now to get the latest news from Chatham County straight to your inbox.

* indicates required
/ ( mm / dd )

Get your digital subscription today.

Access all content on our website, including our e-edition, at a discounted rate while also being environmentally friendly.

Get your 1-year digital subscriptions for only $39.
That's just 10¢ per day for the great coverage of your local news!

Subscribe now