Cacciucco (Tuscan Fish Stew)

March 10, 2013Posted in:

Tuscan Fish Stew
Serves 6

In Tuscany, someone in a cacciucco is in a real muddle. Perhaps this soup is a fish muddle, just one with great, deep flavors. Cacciucco has a different twist depending upon where you are: In Livorno, it’s very spicy; in Versilia, sweet. Aside from really fresh fish of any kind, the key ingredients are red pepper, black pepper, garlic, salt, and herbs. Using red wine will make the dish more robust. I like to remove the clams and mussels from the shells to make eating the stew easier. Leave in a few, though, to scoop up the broth.
On a separate note, if you want to make your own simple fish stock, buy 2 pounds of fish bones when you’re purchasing your fish; wash them, put them in a pot with 3 quarts water, and simmer for 1 hour.

1 1/2 cups onion chunks
1 cup celery chunks
1/2 cup carrot chunks
2 tablespoons sliced garlic, plus 2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
5 sage leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound squid or cuttlefish, cut into strips
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned whole tomatoes, with their juice, pureed (You can use canned pureed tomatoes, but I think the whole ones are less acidic and of higher quality.)
A 1-pound grouper or red snapper, cleaned and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 pound (12 medium) peeled shrimp
1 1/4 pounds (about 30) mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 1/2 pounds (about 2 dozen) small clams, scrubbed
4 cups fish stock (see heaadnote) or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
6 slices thick crusty bread

1. Put the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, crushed red pepper, parsley, and sage in a food processor and puree to a coarse paste.
2. Coat the bottom of a stockpot with the olive oil. Add the pureed vegetables and saute over medium heat until they become soft and very aromatic, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Add the squid and cook until it turns white, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add the wine and reduce by half.
5. Add the tomatoes, fish, and the stock. Season with salt and a generous grind of pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the shellfish and cook for 10 minutes more. Taste for seasoning. Discard any shellfish that did not open.
6. Toast the bread and rub it with the whole garlic cloves. Put a toast in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle soup over it.

WINE SUGGESTION: There is so much going on in this stew, I like to serve a really simple red, like a Rosso di Montalcino or a Chianti. Another light-bodied choice would be a Ciliegiolo, a wine that’s usually used for blending, but one that can also be great on its own. Try Poggio Ciliegio from the Cecconello Estate.