The fish stew with five c’s

Livorno’s cacciucco revisited

Rachel Priestley
March 1, 2012

Most seaside towns in Italy have their own antique version of zuppa di pesce, and the Tuscan port town of Livorno is no exception: here they call it cacciucco: the fish stew with five c's and 13 different types of seafood, all slow-cooked in red wine with lots of aglio and zenzero. Zenzero is Tuscan for peperoncino, chilli. The origin of the word is said to be the Turkish word kazuk, meaning small or little, though there is nothing small or little about this fish soup.



Livorno is known as the Naples of the north for its interesting mix of people, architecture history and attitudes. Boasting canals similar to those of Venice, it is Tuscany's largest port city, with a history as rich as its famous fish stew. I love the feel of walking through the old part of town, along the canals and down the small side streets, being greeted warmly by the friendly locals.


One of my favourite little winter places to eat cacciucco is the restaurant owned by a family from Pisa that moved to Livorno in 1959 to open Trattoria Galileo. There you'll find a simple, rustic, friendly trattoria with the richest cacciucco you'll ever taste. To warm the cockles of your heart, it has just the right amount of zenzero and it is slow-cooked to perfection. Because the family has been making cacciucco there since 1959, they've had lots of time and practice to perfect the recipe. However, when ordering cacciucco in a trattoria, don't order an antipasto, as cacciucco is usually served in very generous portions. The only accompaniment this hearty fish stew needs is a good red wine, notably a Bolgheri Rosso. Indeed, the richness of the dish comes in part from the red wine used in making it, as well as the abundance of pesce di scoglio. (I don't think Ivo Piageri, who makes it at Trattoria Galileo would forgive you if you asked for a white, even a local.)


Another of my favourite places to eat cacciucco is at La Pineta at Bibbona Marina. Luciano Zazzeri, owner and chef, has been fishing this part of the Tuscan coastline, using uniquely local techniques, since he was a young boy. His family opened the restaurant in 1964, and it is a wonderful mix of relaxed beachfront simplicity and elegance, evident from both the quality of the table linen and the friendliness of the Zazzeri and his staff. This is my favourite summer place to eat caccuicco rivisitato, which is a much lighter version of the stew.


For those who would like to prepare this sensational slow-cooked Mediterranean seafood stew at home, I offer my own special recipe for cacciucco.


Buon appetito!







About 2.5 to 3 kilos of seafood. At the market, ask your trusted fishmonger for the following:


Pesce per fare il cacciucco (fish to make Livorno's fish stew). You should get a mixture of small and mixed whole fish that are native to the Mediterranean sea, such as sogliole, triglie, scorfano, gallinella. 


Crostacei (crustaceans). I like to go for one scampo (prawn) per person, some of the prawns with the shell on them and cicale di mare, which you will find only after the autumn rains (they look like flattened prawns but with many more legs, and they have softer, textured, flavourful flesh). When these are caught around a full moon, the flesh is richer and they contain coral.


Molluschi (mollusks). Get some cozze e vongole (mussles and clams)

A polpo (octopus), and some seppie (squid).

1 red onion

5 cloves garlic

½  jar of passata di pomodoro (tomato sauce)

½ can peeled tomatoes

Sale, pepe

Zenzero (chilli pepper)


150 ml extra virgin olive oil

Red wine (Bolgheri Rosso)

Brodo di pesce, fish stock

8 slices of Tuscan bread



Wash the whole fish and the crustaceans; scrub and debeard the mussels; wash the clams.


Finely dice the red onion and sauté in 100ml of extra virgin olive oil in your largest terracotta pot for at least 5 minutes on a low flame. Add the peeled and crushed garlic cloves and turn up the heat to lightly caramelise the onion.


Add the zenzero to taste and toast in the oil to bring out the flavour. Then pour in 1½ glasses of red wine and reduce it. Add the passata di pomodoro and the pealed tomatoes, and bring to a boil before adding the polpo and seppie, a little salt and pepper, and parsley. After 15 minutes check the tenderness, and begin to add some fish stock and the larger and firmer-fleshed fish. Bring back to a boil and continue to simmer until the fish becomes tender. Then add the smaller species, finishing with the crostacei and cozze.


Turn off the flame and leave to rest while preparing the bread: toast it on both sides over an open fire, rub it with garlic, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.


Serve the cacciucco in the cooking pot with the toasted bread around the edges. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil on top, add a sprinkle of zenzero, and provide a plate for the fish bones and shells. Each person can help him or herself by taking some crostini and ladling on top a selection of fish and broth. Be sure to provide spoons!




I like to use V 2009, a red I like with other fish dishes, for making cacciucco and drinking with it. Fifty percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Merlot, 20 percent Syrah and other grape varietals, this wine has a good structure, with a fruitiness and softness that blends well with the tomato and doesn't cover the flavours of the fish soup; instead it enhances them.



A version of this article appeared in print on page 20 in TF 158; it was edited online on 09/03/12.

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