Tales of Tuscany – Fish Feast in Livorno

A Fishy Tale from Livorno Tuscany:

I have a few Italian cookery books.  Though I don’t often follow recipes last year I started trying to make Fish Stew from Livorno using various recipes in books and on the net as the base for the dish.  I’ve actually had a couple of attempts because the first was very good…and I wanted to see if I could make a low calorie version.  Now  I am not sure whether I simply didn’t understand his pronunciation of the word when The Hedonist told me that we were going to Livorno to try Caccuicco or whether I forget the word I’d already typed in the blog.  But I do know I swore it was called something else.  If I am honest, my version really wasn’t anything like the dish we experienced anyway when we visited La Barcarola, a restaurant founded in 1935 that specialises in great seafood (as do most of the restaurants in Livorno!).

livorno town venice district

To the people of Livorno, a port just north of Pisa, this dish is their signature dish, one of passion and complex flavours.  If I’ve understood the brochure we were given by the restaurant properly, it’s a dish which originated from the fiery inhabitants;  Levantines, Western Liguria, Spanish, Portuguese, Greeks, Germans and Italians, Jews, Turks, Moors, Armenians, Persians and others.  Livorno’s status as a duty-free port from the 16th century onward  encouraged a cosmopolitan merchant population.  Although that status was lost with the unification of Italy 150 years ago, the city has many international influences.  And, with Caccuicco, one idea is that all the different types of fish represent the different people who lived in the Port.  The brochure goes on to say that the version we eat today lacks the intensity of the Cacciucco of yesterday.

D’altronde, non si può nemmeno pretendere che il Cacciucco di oggi abbia la forza del Cacciucco di ieri l’altro, quando i livornesi erano satanassi nerboruti con il cazzotto proibito e lo stomaco di ferro, quando per prepararlo ci volevano dodici se non tredici qualità di pesce. Oggi che siamo tutti delicatini con problemi di colesterolo e di soprappeso, è sufficiente mettere nella pentola seppie nostrali e polpi di scoglio, palombo fresco e una gallinella, un pesce cappone, uno scorfano

We were all quite tired when we got to the restaurant.  A combination of a delayed flight and losing a car in Lucca.  But that’s another story.  La Barcarola was one of Miky’s recommendation for us to try Caccuicco.  And, we’d planned on JUST eating that.  But, a few minutes after we sat down, we watched some amazing fish platters arriving at the table next door to us.  So, well, when you are on holiday you are allowed to be self-indulgent aren’t you?


cold seafood la barcarola livorno


hot seafood starter la barcarola livorno

We ordered a bottle of prosecco.  For no other reason than it’s a very light wine to drink.  But, when the caccuicco arrived it was obvious how wrong our choice of tipple was.

cacciucco la barcarola livorno tuscany

If this is the version for the delicate stomached man of today, well, the population of Livorno must really have had cast iron digestive system.

It was delicious.

Rich, deeply flavoured with such a variety of fish.  Quite unlike any fish dish I’d tried before.  I’d like to say meaty, but it seems a slightly perverse way to describe fish.  The recipe from the restaurant includes cuttlefish, octopus, dogfish and ‘fish for soup’, together with mussels and prawns, white wine, tomato past, oil, garlic, sage pepper, bread and roasted peppers and garlic.  Eventually I am sure I’ll work out what the ‘fish for soup’ actually are (google translates as hens, capons, redfish, black goby, weever and conger eel) and I might actually try making the ‘real’ cacciucco.

And, the owner of the restaurant came across to say hello and bring us a complimentary glass of red wine, so embarrassed was he by our inappropriate choice of drink!

cheers la barcarola livorno

We finished the meal with a glass of Ponce, another local speciality; sweetened expresso coffee with a very generous shot of rum, cognac, sassolino and lemon rind

Ponce coffee la barcarola livorno

On our next visit, we tried to visit the fish market but got there just as it was closing (about 1.30pm).  It was a slightly surreal experience walking through the large empty hall

livorno fish market

Just a few stalls were still open

livorno fish market Tuscany

So, instead we went to another of Livorno’s traditional restaurants, this time choosing Frittura Mista and Grigliata Mista – another fishy experience

Frittura mista livorno tuscany


grilled fish osteria del mare

As you can see, large plates of very fresh, beautifully cooked fish.  Perfect for my pescatarian friends:)

Osteria del Mare didn’t quite have the same impact on me as La Barcarola, but it is a charming and very traditional restaurant, full of local people taking their lunch while we were there.

osteria del mare livorno

osteria del mare livorno


From our two fleeting visits, Livorno is a city that deserves more time, and perhaps a visit while the market is open and La Barcarola was a great recommendation from Miky, our friendly tour leader for her suggestion of places to visit in Livorno.

And once again, my thanks to Tuscany Now with their splendid villas in Tuscany for their support.

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