Fish-soup fountains

Livorno’s speciality in bronze

Christina Coster-Longman
March 8, 2007

We all know Piazza Santissima Annunziata because of Brunelleschi’s beautiful Ospedale degli Innocenti, with its magnificent porticoed colonnade and Della Robbia’s blue-glazed terracotta tondos with cherubic babes wrapped in swaddling clothes. But next time you go there, stop a while to admire more carefully the two bronze fountains that Pietro Tacca made in 1629. Tacca was the pupil of Giambologna and the same sculptor who made the ‘Porcellino’ or wild boar, the copy of which is in the Straw Market.

 

The two fountains were commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinand as a gift for the Tuscan Port of Livorno, where they were to adorn the docks in honor of its successful fishing avnd trade industry. The main feature of the two fountains—done in the Mannerist style, with fantastic and bizarre creations typical of Flemish goldsmiths—is the two tritons, or sea monsters, looming over the basins. The basins themselves are decorated with all manner of sea life, from shells to shellfish, octopus, molluscs and crustaceans and every sort of fish. In other words, just the ingredients of Livorno’s famous Caccuccio, a very tasty fish soup.

 

The fountains never made it to the coastal city—they were such a success that royal wishes decreed they were to remain in Florence. So they got ‘stranded’ in Piazza Annunziata and haven’t moved since. Over the centuries, they have come to be known as the Fontane del Caccuccio, or fish-soup fountains. Every so often, Livorno tried to claim its clams, but the city had to wait over 300 years to have its own fountain. In 1956, the original moulds of the statues were found, and Giorgio La Pira, the mayor of Florence at the time, ordered a copy to be cast and donated to the coastal city.

If you’re feeling a bit peckish after seeing the fountains and want to have Cacciucco (which comes from the Balkan word meaning a ‘mix’) here is one version.

 

CACCIUCCO

You will need a large, deep pan and about one and a half kilos of mixed fish. Choose whatever is in season (it needn’t be expensive; ask your local fishmonger). A typical list would include sole (sogliola), mullet (triglie), catfish, dogfish (palombo), goby (gobbi), squid, octopus, fresh shellfish and shrimp. The bony fish are important because they make the broth especially tasty.

 

Half a kilo of mixed fish

Half an onion, minced

Three cloves of garlic

A bunch of parsley

Half a kilo or so of fresh ripe or tinned tomatoes

Half a litre of white wine and a litre of water

2 tablespoons (at least) of olive oil

A good dose of hot red pepper (peperoncino), cut into pieces

Slices of Tuscan bread, toasted and rubbed with garlic

 

Clean the fish carefully. Cut up the larger fish and leave the smaller ones whole. In a large, deep pan, lightly sauté the onion and garlic in the oil. Add the parsley and tomatoes, water and wine. Season with salt. Bring to the boil then let simmer for about half an hour. Remove the garlic (if desired) and put in the fish, starting with the larger, tougher varieties and gradually adding the other smaller, tender ones. Let the mixture cook for at least 15 minutes on a low-to-medium flame. Add a little more oil if you wish. Put the toasted bread in soup plates, ladle the delicious soup over it, and serve the Cacciucco hot.

 

Adapted from the DVD ‘Firenze, non tutti sanno che’ (English version, ‘Florence not everyone knows that’) by Agostino and Rolando.

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