Italian Fish Soup: Cacciucco alla Livornese

Wed, 07/27/2011 - 04:14

When talking about fish soup or fish stew in Italy, Cacciucco alla Livornese is the first recipe popping in your head. The interesting history of this dish stretches back at least five hundred years as it is believed that this fish stew was first made in Livorno around the year 1500. Like with many other Italian traditional recipes, there are various legends surrounding its creation, but two of these stories stand out from the rest.

The first legend tells of a fisherman from Livorno who lost his life at sea in a shipwreck. His children were so hungry with nobody to provide for them after his death that they turned to all their neighbours for food. Everyone gave them different types of fish, with which their mother made a huge soup adding tomatoes, garlic, oil and slices of bread – thus creating the first cacciucco.

The second is that a lighthouse keeper created the soup. The Florentine Republic had prohibited the use of olive oil which he always used to fry his fish and so rather than his favourite “fritto”, he made a fish soup instead.

The most realistic explanation is that after having sold what they fished, fishermen’s families had to cook with whatever had remained unsold, thus starting the tradition of mixing all kinds of fish together.

The traditional recipe calls for thirteen different kinds of fish as ingredients, but nowadays, most people use between six and eight varieties. Enjoy this version!

Ingredients (Serves 8)

* 500 gr cuttlefish
* 500 gr octopus
* 300 gr sand shark
* 500 gr mixed fish (gurnard, sea-robin, scorpio fish)
* 500 gr mixed shellfish (clams and mussels)
* 500 gr tiger prawns, prawns and shrimp
* 3 cloves of garlic
* 5 sage leaves
* 1 chili
* 1 tbs tomato paste
* 2 dl white wine
* 12 slices of Tuscan bread
* 2 dl extra virgin olive oil
* salt and pepper


Clean all the different kinds of fish and set aside, do not throw the heads and bones away. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the garlic cloves, sage and chili. Add the roughly chopped octopus and cuttlefish. Pour in the wine and add a spoon of tomato paste. Let it simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionaly. Add the mixed fish and the sand shark, previously cut in medium chunks.

In the meantime, take another saucepan and add all the fish heads and bones preparing a fish broth, then filter it and add it to the first saucepan to give the stew a greater flavor. Simmer over a medium flame. When the octopus and cuttlefish are tender, add the crustaceans and the mixed seafood with shells, and continue to cook for 6-7minutes until shells open.

To serve it, take some toasted bread, rubbed with a garlic clove and seasoned with pepper, and place it on the bottom of the dish, spoon the fish and sauce onto the bread, sprinkle with parsley and serve.