Last updated on 17-Sep-2023
Walking around Lisbon one day, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and one of the options for “dish of the day” (prato do dia) was Fish and Pasta Stew (Massada de Peixe). I didn’t recognize the dish, but I was curious and asked the waiter what it was. He said it was like fish soup with pasta, but with less broth. It sounded good, so I chose to try and really liked it! I later decided to come up with a recipe to make it at home and discovered that it is a very common meal in Portugal, and it can be served as a main dish or starter.
You know those simple recipes that bring together many good things and make us think: “there is no way this will be bad”. But then after trying, we were surprised because it was even better and more interesting than we imagined? Well, this was one of those cases for us.
One of my most beloved expressions in English is “comfort food”. Separately, these two words are simple, but together they gain superpowers to bring out all the feelings that the expression evokes. While the foods themselves may vary from person to person, we can say that comfort food refers to those dishes or treats that involve our emotions and good memories, food that seems to embrace us when we eat. Like those recipes that mom, grandma, or other loved ones made for us (enjoy it if they still do!), a favourite childhood snack or dessert, or a dish in a restaurant that we go back to whenever we can. Those are the foods we crave and want to eat when we are sad, homesick, or want to eat to celebrate. They are the foods we close our eyes to eat, to better savour the taste and the memories on the palate, and go “hmmmmmmm” … Are you with me?
So, this humble recipe is like a hug, and I think we all need more hugs these days. The combination of the tasty cooked pasta in a velvety broth along with the pieces of fish is a meal of pure affection, to be enjoyed alone or with loved ones.
To make it even better, it’s super easy to prepare, and everything cooks together in one pan. This recipe yields 4 good servings as a main course or 6 as a starter. How about this idea that we are sharing here sending out tons of good vibes?
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Fish and Pasta Stew
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion medium, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup leeks sliced, soaked and clean (or carrots)
- ½ cup red bell pepper finely chopped, optional
- 1 tsp paprika powder
- ¾ cup crushed tomatoes or ½lb (250g) fresh tomatoes, diced
- 1 L shrimp or seafood stock (about 1 qt, 32oz) homemade or store-bought
- 1-2 cup water boiling
- 1 ⅓ cup pasta macaroni or small shells (about ½lb)
- 400 g fish fillets (about 1 lb) haddock, cod, halibut, salmon or another fish of your liking, cut into bite-size pieces
- 200 g shrimp (about ½lb) peeled and deveined, optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
- Season the fish (and shrimp, if using) with salt and pepper and set aside. Chop the onion and the garlic. Heat the broth and water.
- Bring a pan to medium heat, heat the oil, add the onion + a pinch of salt and sauté until it gets translucid.
- Add the garlic (and red pepper, if using), mix and cook for 1 minute. Add the leeks and cook for 2-3 mins.
- Add paprika, stir, then add the tomatoes and let everything simmer for a few minutes to develop the flavours. Add the broth and 1 cup of water (both hot), taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and a pinch of black pepper.
- Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Mix and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally (so the macaroni doesn't stick to the bottom), until the pasta is soft (about 10-12 minutes). If you want the stew with more broth, add more hot water (and check the seasoning) until you get the consistency you prefer.
- Add the fish (and the shrimp, if using), mix and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily. Ideally, the fish should break up a little in the broth to combine more with the pasta.
- Turn off the heat, sprinkle with the cilantro (or parsley), stir, and it's ready to serve!
- For a vegan version, use vegetable broth with tofu and/or sliced hearts of palm instead of the fish.
- If the broth contains salt, be careful not to over-salt the dish.
- Serve in bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I also like to add a dash of hot sauce. Crusty bread to mop up the broth is optional but very satisfying!