The Cacciucco


The origins of the soups is lost in the mists of time,  it does not matter  if  we are talking about vegetable soups or fish soups.  However, regarding the identity of the word Cacciucco, it is the result of various idioms not precisely recognized and, in lack of a reliable historical evidence, researchers have invented tales of fantasy with the only certainty that it was a dish for poor people.  In fact there is a tale that talks about Ferdinandone dei Medici who, upon tasting this dish, came to understand the essence of his workers who were creating his new Port City and in that occasion he came to know the customs of the local food. 
Another fantasy story is the one about Amedeo Testalunga and his uncle, the fisherman Giovanni Del Fattore.  The two men were given some fish to eat during their trip to Paris and they stopped to eat and drink in the Land of Burlamacco where they cooked the leftover fish in a fast way using an old pan and adding some tomatoes picked in a garden and some pieces of old dried bread.
And what about the story of the lighthouse keeper?  He used to cook the fish in the work-place causing the condensation on the windows!
But the funniest tale is the one about a little boy who was taken to the hospital for a bad stomach ache and when the doctor asked his mother what he had eaten, she answered:  - some wine-, and the doctor said, horrified: - what!? Wine… a child?- and the mother replied: - what else should I have given him after Cacciucco?, some idrolitina…?- (idrolitina was used to turn natural water into sparkling water and it was sold in small bags).
With reference to the above stories, as you can notice, Cacciucco was considered a dish for poor people who used to fill up their bellies with this soup made of leftover fish and spices of a low quality. Overtime and with the success of the middle class, they began to print out the recipes reflecting their social class position and this brought to substantial changes to all the cooking and preparations, not least that of Cacciucco.
In the 19th century culture started taking notes of country cooking, regional variations, cooking methods and innovative ways and it is in this precise historical moment that the local and regional identity took place.  The introduction of concentrated tomato sauce and, later , of fresh tomatoes, have given important changes to our dish and the researchers De Mauro,  Emilio de Felice and Aldo Duro have identified in the word Cacciucco an Arabic origin, which was born in the city of Livorno and of which the meaning was “chopped food”.  Furthermore, we have to say that in 1700 the Jewish Community gave birth to “BAGITTO”, a language of mixed Iberian, Jewish, Arab, Italian and “Livornese”, especially among lower-class people usually resident in the central and shabby part of the city.
Lovers of the Italian language point out that the word Cacciucco which has 5 “C”, is the result of the local slang in Livorno called “vernacolo”, of which great chefs, journalists and writers know very little.
Mr. Artusi,  ( born 4th August 1820 in Forlimpopoli –  died 30th March 1911 in Florence) a famous chef, in the first edition of “CACCIUCCO 1”, defined this dish as a sea port recipe, particularly in Tuscany, where is very easy to find various species of fresh fish needed for the purpose.  This chef, who had long mustache, spent time in Livorno in 1853 and he used to eat in cheap taverns and we can assume he liked poor fish soups.  He frequented the taverns along the bridge called “Ponte alla Sassaia” (a green, white  and red house) in which already by the end of 1800 Cacciucco was served.  What a coincidence! The colors of the Italian flag!  Maybe Artusi    already had the intuition  of the imminent unification of Italy by tasting this fabulous dish? Now, all this information brings up a question:  before the unification of Italy was there another port in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany that could compete with Livorno and its culinary traditions?  The answer is an emphatic NO.
Mr. Artusi also stated that, being Cacciucco a heavy dish, we have to be careful in not eating a lot of it, but we must take into consideration that the difference between me and this famous chef, is that  I am from a seaside town, instead Artusi was from Forlimpopoli, a town inland of central Italy, and he knew very little about fish dishes, in fact in his cookbook there are only 40 recipes about fish. However he was a very good gastronome and had a futuristic vision of Cacciucco that he had foreseen with garlic bread to be soaked. We have to point out that this kind of bread replaced the granite biscuits baked in the ovens of the city by the arab bakers.
There is a continuous progress of recipes in relation with the change of the seasons, the elements and the ways of cooking, so also the Cacciucco, with the introduction of tomatoes and red pepper has reached a new cook adapting itself to new gastronomic traditions.  Obviously, over the years, the types of bread have changed due to the changes of the high quality of the flours and this also occurred with virgin olive oil which has improved overtime, and even the way of cooking has changed, the charcoal stoves have been replaced with the gas and electric ones.
However the recipes are of fundamental importance to pass on traditions which certainly change over the years, but we must look forward keeping those guidelines that have given us our origins.
Our typical dish is similar to other fish soups, but only in Livorno this kind of soup receives the flavors of tomato, of red pepper, of fish sauce and it is only in  Livorno that Cacciucco gets the strength, the passion, the aroma, the flavor, the color and the dignity of a great dish, unique in its category.
After reading all this, we have to admit how fascinating is the history of the Cacciucco, a fish soup that was able to change from a dish for poor people to a refined and delicious dish becoming the gastronomic symbol of our city.

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