In an extra large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, salt, garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté until shallots are translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, water, tomatoes with juice, seafood stock and the bay leaf. White wine can be substituted for the cup of water for added taste. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, simmering until flavors blend, about 30 minutes.
Add the cleaned mussels to cooking liquid and cook until mussels begin to open, about 2 minutes. Add the cleaned shrimp, scallops and fish. Alternately, clams, crab and lobster meat may also be added but at additional expense. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the shrimp are pink and scallops are no longer translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Also discard any mussel or clam that did not open during cooking. Season to taste with more salt and red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve in large soup bowls with toasted sourdough bread if available.
"Cioppino" - From the word "ciuppin", Genoa Area Italian dialect meaning "chopped". Originated in San Francisco, not Italy, in the late 1880s, the dish was made on the California fishing boats from scraps of their catch and fresh tomatoes. Later brought to the port and served in restaurants there around the turn of the century. Some Fisherman's Wharf establishments don the guest with a fancy bib for this sloppy but popular dish. The French version is called Bouillabaisse.