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Cacciucco alla Viareggina, Cacciucco Viareggio Style

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco is a fish stew made from whatever the fishmonger has left over (or fails to sell), and consequently requires a number of kinds of fish to succeed. It’s also a classic frugal dish, the maritime equivalent of true peasant food, and like many of the peasant dishes made inland (ribollita comes to mind), it’s so good that now everyone enjoys it regardless of social status. The best known cacciucco is cacciucco alla livornese, made in Livorno, which has a healthy jolt of red pepper. Cacciucco alla Viareggina is a bit blander but just as tasty; the recipe is drawn from Mariù Salvatori Zuliani’s excellent book, La Cucina di Versilia e Garfagnana.

“It’s a spicy stew,” she writes, “that’s served at all hours in the trattorie of Viareggio’s port. A little less heavy on red pepper than what’s made in Livorno, but equally good.”

Begin by finely slicing an onion and mincing a clove of garlic and small amounts of carrot and celery (1/4 cup or so of each).

Sauté the mixture in olive oil, and as soon as the onion turns golden stir in some tomato sauce (not too much; you’re not making soup), pepper, a little shredded red pepper, and a pinch of salt, then add the fish, which should be washed, cleaned, scaled and boned — add them either whole or chopped depending upon their size. The fish that work best are: reef mullet, totani (little squid), moscardini (baby octopus), a few pieces of dogfish or other larger sliced fish, monkfish, small grey mullet or a slice of a larger fish, and mussels or the shellfish of choice.

Heat through, then add a glass of dry white wine, and simmer until the fish is cooked. Remove the pieces that have remained whole, and put everything else through a strainer to filter out bones, scales and whatnot.

While the fish is cooking, rub slices of bread with garlic, toast them, and use them to line soup bowls. Then reheat the pieces of fish in their strained sauce, stir in a handful of minced parsley, ladle the cacciucco over the bread in the bowls, and serve.

Cacciucco alla Livornese, which gains a healthy jolt from hot pepper

Cacciucco, Livorno’s Fish Stew

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco alla Livornese, by the Ristorante Alcide in Poggibonsi

Cacciucco is a fish stew made along the Tuscan coast, made from whatever the fishmonger has that’s fresh and inexpensive, or hasn’t sold. There are many variations; the most famous is from Livorno, where it is perked up with a healthy jolt of red pepper: It will sell you on fish if you don’t like fish already.

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of mixed fish, whatever is in season (it needn’t be expensive), for example, sole, mullet, catfish, dogfish, goby, squid, octopus, fresh shellfish, and shrimp or mantis shrimp. Chop the large fish, but leave the small ones whole
  • A half a medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • A bunch of parsley, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound sliced fresh or canned plum tomatoes (if they’re fresh, blanch and peel them)
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar diluted in 3/4 cup of water
  • Salt and crumbled or minced hot red pepper to taste
  • Toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic

Sauté the onion, parsley, and garlic in the oil in a deep bottomed pot. Once the onion has turned translucent, stir in the chopped tomatoes and season the mixture to taste. This is one of the few spicy Central Italian dishes, so don’t feel you must be sparing with the red pepper. When the tomatoes are done, stir in the water and vinegar. Simmer the for a few more minutes and remove the garlic. Blend the sauce and return it to the fire with the fish, and, if you wish, sprinkle another tablespoon or two of olive oil into the pot. Simmer the cacciucco until the fish is done, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, toast several slices of bread and rub them with a crushed clove of garlic.

Once the fish is done, line the bottoms of your bowls with the toasted bread, ladle the cacciucco over them, and serve.

A note: there are a number of schools of cacciucco in Livorno. This recipe is modern, and cooked briefly. More traditional recipes call for simmering the cacciucco considerably longer, up to 2-3 hours, and if you choose this path you should space out the fish more, cooking the swimming fish and the octopus or squid for much longer than you cook the shellfish and crustaceans.

Serves four.

Cacciucco alla Viareggina is milder, but just as tasty.