Cacciucco, a Tuscan fish stew recipe

This hearty fish stew is similar to other types of fish stew, such as the French bouillabaisse, Chile’s caldillo de congrio, Spanish zarzuela, and Portuguese caldeirada. All these dishes have a story to tell about their origin, people and culture. Most were created by the need to put a dish on the table with the ingredients they had at hand, and overtime they became entrenched in the soul of their country.

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Cacciucco originated in the port city of Livorno where acccording to tradition, there should be at least five different types of fish in the soup, one for each letter c in cacciucco. It uses fish left behind after more valuable fish have sold. The base of the stew is octopus, squid, tomatoes, red wine, sage, garlic and red chillies. It’s the only fish stew in Italy that uses red wine.

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The fish gets added at the end of cooking, before the soup is served over garlic rubbed bread. This hearty fish stew is perfectly matched with a Vermentino, a light bodied white variety that grows along the coast of Tuscany, and be generous, pour the wine and now dream of Tuscany!

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Recipe (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp cup extra virgin oil
  • 1 finely chopped brown onion
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh long red chillies
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, for bread
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 small calamaris, cleaned and cut into 1cm pieces
  • 1 medium octopus (around 500g), cleaned and cut into 8cm pieces
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine, preferably a Tuscan red, like Chianti
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red gurnard, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 sand whiting, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 small trivially, cut into 4 pieces
  • 4 whole scampis
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 thick slices country-style white bread or baguette 

Preparation 

Pour the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, sage, fresh chilli, garlic, stir well, leave to cook for about 2 minutes or until you get the hit of aromas from the pan. Add calamari and octopus, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir well, and cook for about 1 minute. Pour the wine, bring it to a simmer, until the alcohol and liquid has evaporated, this will take around 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes with the juice, add the water and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 40 minutes until the octopus and calamari are tender. Add gurnard, and  gently cook, covered, for about 5 minutes. Add whiting and trevally to the pan, cook, covered, without stirring , about 5 minutes.

Toast bread, and rub a garlic clove all over the toast. Place one slice of toast in each bowl then gently ladle stew over the bread.

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