Very soon I will be back in London and it will be the end of my lovely Italian meals unless I decide to recreate cacciucco alla Livornese in my own kitchen which I doubt somehow. Not so much because I cannot get the different fish and seafood that I need for this amazing fish stew (or soup depending on who describes it) but really because the pleasure of eating it in my kitchen, however lovely it is, will never equal that of enjoying it while looking out at the fabulous sunset that evening.
Still, I was very happy to learn how to make it from lovely Bea who is a terrific cook and who also has the prettiest daughter ever, Asia. I am not giving measures here because Bea does not cook this way but I will describe the process and I am sure you will be able to work out the proportions.
First you need to shop for the fish and seafood and you will need three different fish: 1 rascasse, and 2 others which name I have forgotten; and if the fishmonger will not clean them for you, you will have to do it like Bea who not only gutted the fish but also cut off all the fins.
Then you need to clean both the squid and octopus which is quite a messy job.
Bea also beat the octopus to tenderise it.
She then put the fish in one pot, together with an onion, a carrot and a couple of sprigs of parsley. She covered them with water and added salt and a few grains of pepper. After that, she took a pressure cooker and put the squid and octopus in it, together with a drizzle of olive oil, dried chillies, a clove of garlic, a few cherry tomatoes, half a lemon and a few sage leaves and she cooked everything until completely tender.
While the fish was cooking, Bea cleaned the mussels and rinsed the clams.
And she put the langoustines and fish steaks away in the refrigerator because she was not going to use them until the very end before serving the cacciucco for dinner.
We now had some time and we went away to the pool while Bea arranged some sunflowers in a vase.
When the time came to prepare the sauce for the cacciucco, Bea sent lovely Asia to call us back to the kitchen and we reluctantly left the gorgeous sea view. Bea had already brought out the manual moulinette to mince the fish and a large deep sauté pan to make the sauce. She removed the fish from the broth, boned and skinned it then put the flesh in the moulinette. Then she took the squid and octopus out of the pressure cooker and trimmed them before cutting them into bite-sized pieces.
After that she minced the fish in the moulinette, adding broth to make it easier and quicker. She also strained what remained of both broths and added it to the minced fish.
Now that she had her fish and seafood ready, it was time to make the sauce and despite it being high summer, she used passata rather than fresh tomatoes explaining that the taste would be more intense. She chopped a little flat-leaf parsley to make soffritto adding a whole clove of garlic which she would discard later – surprisingly most of my Italian friends hate garlic. Once she could smell the parsley and garlic, she added the passata and let it cook for a while until the tomatoes darkened and became quite concentrated. She then added some of the fish broth.
She let the sauce bubble for a few more minutes then added the chopped squid and octopus and more fish broth.
She then added the clams, covered the pan and let the sauce simmer for a little longer before arranging the fish steaks quite neatly in the sauce and cooking them covered for half an hour.
This is when I would have done it quite differently and not added these until the very end with the mussels and langoustines. They needed more or less the same time to cook and certainly not as long as she gave them.
As for how to serve cacciucco, you first need to line each plate with two or three pieces of toasted Tuscan bread (without salt) then you pour enough sauce to cover the bread and arrange a little of the fish and seafood over the bread. And you need to serve it immediately while it is hot and before the bread absorbs too much of the sauce. In fact, this where I would also differ with tradition and serve the cacciucco without bread although I wouldn’t dare do that to any of my Italian friends, and certainly not to Bea!