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Cacciucco alla Livornese - Livorno's Fish Stew

Tuscan fish soup (stew), or cacciucco, is a popular traditional seafood dish with a history that stretches back at least five hundred years. The original seafood cacciucco soup was first made in the port city of Livorno in Tuscany around the year 1500. The term “Cacciucco” derives from a Turkish word Kϋçϋk ("bits and pieces" or "odds and ends") which refers to the modest size of the fish used to make the dish. Originally Cacciucco was made with those fish left over after a catch, the so-called “pesce povero” or ‘poor fish’ because they were more difficult to sell and would be sold more cheaply or often taken home at the end of the day by the fisherman himself.

The fish stew would be made with octopus, squid, and bony fish like the less than pretty black scorpion fish, red snapper, tub gurnard, dogfish, monkfish. Mantis prawns, small clams, mussels were also added. According to one tradition, there should be five different types of fish in the soup, one for each letter «c» in «cacciucco». Its base was tomato, garlic, chili, red wine and often fresh sage. It was a hearty working man’s dish with a rich fishy flavor. There are many variants of cacciucco, varying by region and availability of ingredients. Crabs, prawns, cuttlefish, octopus, bream, mullet, or anything else caught that day might be used.

Cacciucco alla Livornese - Livorno's Fish Stew

  • 1 kg mixed fish (whatever is in season, 5 different types of fish)
  • 500 g octopus (squid, cuttlefish)
  • 400 g langoustines, crabs, prawns
  • 300 g mussels, clams
  • 1 medium onion (minced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 carrot (diced)
  • 1 stalk celery (finely chopped)
  • 700 g fresh tomatoes (peeled, chopped)
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 200 ml red wine
  • 1 tbsp sugar (optimally)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5-7 sage leaves (chopped)
  • Chili pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Prepare all the fish. Cut the large fish into serving pieces. Put aside the heads (remove gills and eyes) of the larger ones to use for stock. Clean octopus and squid (remove ink sack and eyes). Cut into portion pieces.
  • Clean mussels and clams and place in wide-bottomed pot with a lid. Cover the pot and let the mussels and clams steam for 5-8 minutes. As soon as most of the shells are open, turn off the heat (Throw out any mussels and clams that did not open). Strain the liquid and conserve.
  • Place the fish heads into a pot, add just enough water to cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  • Preheat the heavy large pan (terracotta pot) with 2 tbsp of oil. Saute’ the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Add the chili, sage, bay leaf, octopus and squid. Stirring occasionally cook for a few minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, wine, season the mixture to taste and continue cooking for 15 minutes.
  • Strain the fish stock, pressing hard against the mesh. Stir in fish stock, clams liquid, remaining fish, langoustines, crabs, prawns, Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add the mussels and clams and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Toast the bread and rub with garlic. Place the slices in the bottom of large plates and pour the Cacciucco over the bread. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve hot. (There should be plenty of sauce, but the Cacciucco should not be too liquid).