• Zuppa di pesce is a Puglian dish that embraces the fruits of the sea. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Chef Donato Cofano of Italian restaurant Tacco & Tosca pays tribute to his Italian heritage with a seafood soup recipe from his childhood.
Fernanda Fain-Binda

20 Oct 2021 - 11:38 AM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2021 - 12:52 PM

Donato Cofano, who runs Tacco & Tosca in the inner-city suburb of Middle Park in Melbourne, stirs squid ink into sizzling oil then adds mussels and pipis, a hint of chilli and a garlic clove — skin and all.

This is Cofano's zuppa di pesce or seafood soup, which features at Tacco & Tosca along with other dishes from Puglia region in southern Italy.

Cofano grew up in a tiny village called Pozzo Faceto, which is located by the Adriatic Sea in Puglia and known for its seafood.

He recalls his parents were always busy when he was a child. His father, Sante, would get up at 4am or 5am and work on his farm or others' until nightfall. His mother, Maria, worked at the village school, preparing classrooms and cleaning. School began at 7:30am and Cofano remembers that Maria would arrive at the school ground at 7am to light fireplaces before the children arrived. In the afternoon, Maria worked at home or on the farm with Sante and Cofano. After that, she often cooked traditional ciambotto or fish soup with the local fishermen's daily catch. 

"You would see the small-scale fishermen, with just one boat, coming in [to Pozzo Faceto], and then someone would cycle towards the town calling: 'Fish! Fish!'" remembers Cofano. Maria would buy the cheap fish at the bottom of the basket. "She was so strong, she never stopped." And she still hasn't. Maria is 89 now and still lives in Puglia.

Once Cofano finished school and started studying architecture in Florence, Tuscany, Sante and Maria readied for retirement. However, Sante was diagnosed with cancer in 1990 and passed two years later. This experience taught Cofano to make the most of life. He pursued a career in food and eventually moved to Melbourne in 2007 with his wife, Bruna, and their children, Sophia and Mateo, before opening Tacco & Tosca in 2015.

Cofano also came to Australia with his favourite childhood dish. Ciambotto now features on Tacco & Tosca's menu, although it's called by its other name 'zuppa di pesce'.

He assures that zuppa di pesce is easy to make at home, too. "The dish is constructed so that the fish that takes longest to cook goes in first. Here we add the calamari first, then the white fish, barramundi, second.

"Next, we add some white wine and increase the flame so that the alcohol evaporates and just the sugar remains. After we add the Moreton Bay bug and prawns, then the mussels and pipis. The fish that needs the least time, last. Simple."

"The dish is constructed so that the fish that takes longest to cook goes in first. Here we add the calamari first, then the white fish, barramundi, second."

It doesn't take long to make either. Cofano says the dish takes 20 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook, for one or two people. It takes a bit longer for more people.

He recommends using a stainless steel or copper pot, because these materials distribute heat more evenly. "You cannot make this with an aluminium pan and not burn it."

Some of the ingredients that comprise zuppa di pesce.

Cofano checks on his zuppa regularly, stirring it to prevent the sauce from sticking to the sides of the pan. He adds some white pepper, but no salt.

"It is not needed, you will see," he says. 

Seafood soup (zuppa di pesce)

Serves 1


  • 1-2 squid tubes
  • 7-8 mussels
  • 5-6 pipis
  • 2 prawns
  • ½ Moreton Bay bug
  • A small fillet of barramundi (or similar fish)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (increase to 3 if 2 people are eating) 
  • 1 cup Napoli sauce
  • 5-6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 Roma tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 small chilli
  • Fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 whole garlic cloves with skin
  • White pepper
  • White wine such as Verdeca, Vermentino or Fiano
  • Optional: Squid ink — ask the fishmonger to give the calamari with its ink


  1. Cut calamari tentacles into strips and the body into rings. They should be roughly the same size.
  2. Warm oil in a pan over gentle heat. Add squid ink if you're using this.
  3. Add a clove of garlic and chilli. Take chilli out after a second or two, unless you prefer lots of spice.
  4. Add diced tomatoes.
  5. Add calamari tentacles and rings.
  6. Toss the squid and tomatoes in the oil. They should be gently sizzling. Increase flame if needed.
  7. Add the fillet of fish, flesh-side down.
  8. Add 3 tablespoons of white wine, and increase the flame so that the wine evaporates.
  9. Stir in Napoli sauce, add bug and prawns.
  10. The sauce should be bubbling nicely, and not catching at the bottom. Add a pinch of white pepper and a bit of parsley, reserving most for garnish.
  11. Throw in mussels and pipis, including any water they have released into their bowl already. You can add a bit of water if the sauce is too thick.
  12. Cover the pan, resting on a medium flame, for 5-6 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, grill or toast some bread. Peel the remaining garlic clove and rub it onto the bread when ready.
  14. It's fine to check on your pot, but the steam is needed to cook the fish, so don't check too many times. Avoid reducing the sauce too much. Remove the lid and cook for another 3 minutes.
  15. Check that your fish fillet is cooked and add diced cherry tomatoes. Look for the garlic clove with the skin on and remove it. Drizzle olive oil onto the dish and garnish with parsley.
  16. Serve with garlic toast, pour wine and enjoy.

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