As an important trade port, Livorno has always had access to spices and this is often reflected in its cuisine. Crushed red pepper is a staple, often infused in olive oil. The Livornese-style was born in the city and it should come as no surprise that seafood recipes dominate the restaurant menus. The variety of fish available each day in the city’s Central Market, one of the largest in Europe, is simply amazing.
Cacciucco alla Livornese
This thick fish soup is more like a stew and is perfect when the weather gets cold. It is made using a variety of fish. With Livorno’s coastal heritage, the fish used in the soup can vary – try red snapper, monkfish or halibut and if you cannot find dogfish (also known as cape shark), you can substitute cod.
2 lb of fish with bones
1/2 lb dogfish
1 lb squid
1 lb octopus
8 jumbo shrimp, tails on and deveined
28 oz crushed tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
15 sage leaves
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
4 oz extra virgin olive oil
6 oz red wine
salt and pepper to taste
loaf of crusty bread
flat leaf parsley for garnish
Thoroughly clean and cut the squid and octopus. Cut the squid into pieces about 1/2 inch thick. Boil the octopus in a pot of lightly salted water for 12-15 minutes, until just tender. Run under cold water and then cut the octopus into pieces about 3/4 inches long. Clean the fish and cut each fillet into two or three pieces.
Add the extra-virgin olive oil to a large pan and heat over a medium flame. Add the crush red pepper and allow it to infuse in the oil for 3 minutes, then add the sage leaves and two cloves of the lightly crushed garlic. Cook for 4 minutes. Lower the flame and add the squid. Cook for 12 minutes, then add the boiled octopus and the red wine. Simmer, uncovered for 3-5 minutes, until the alcohol in the wine evaporates.
Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the shrimp and dogfish. Simmer for 20 minutes and add the other fish. Simmer, uncovered for 1 hour. Add a bit of water is the soup is too thick.
Cut and toast slices of bread and then rub with the two remaining cloves of garlic and place into the bowl before serving the soup. Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve.
Linguine al Granchio
This is a delicious combination of ingredients. The crab and shaved asparagus in a wine sauce, enriched with egg yolk, creates a subtle lushness in this pasta recipe.
2-1/2 cups dry white wine
4 lb crabs
16 oz linguine
2 oz extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 small bunch of asparagus (about 12 oz)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 egg yolks
coarse sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
To prepare the crab, pour the white wine into a deep pot and add the crabs. Heat over a medium flame until the wine begins to steam. Reduce the flame to low; cover and bring the wine to a simmer for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of the crab (which will have changed color once cooked).
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the crabs to a cutting board and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull off the claws and the legs, twisting at the joint. Crack open and remove the meat. Pull the shell away from the body using a spoon. Throw away any membranes, guts and gills. Pick out the meat from the body.
Reserve the shells and place back into the wine. Bring to a boil, reducing until about 1-3/4 cups of liquid (12-15 minutes) remains. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and strain the wine, reserving the liquid.
Snap off the stems from the asparagus, wash and then shave, using a vegetable peeler. Keep the heads intact, but you will want thin shavings for the body of the asparagus.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the linguine until not quite al dente (about 2 minutes less than the instructions). You will want the pasta to be ready once the sauce below is prepared.
Heat a saucepan over a medium flame until hot, then add the olive oil, garlic, shallot and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the crab meat and the shaved asparagus to the pan. Stir and then add the reserved crab shell/wine liquid. Cook for 5 minutes until the asparagus has softened. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Turn the flame to low. Drain the pasta and add to the pan, along with parsley and the egg yolks. Toss the mixture gently and heat until it simmers; then cook for another minute or so, until the sauce has thickened. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with freshly cracked pepper.
Triglie alla Livornese
Triglie is Italian for red mullet. Along with the cacciucco fish soup, mullet in red tomato sauce is an emblematic dish of Livorno. Use the smallest mullets you can find, ideally less than ½ pound each.
2-1/2 lb red mullet
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
small handful Italian parsley, chopped
2 tbsp parsley, minced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine
15 oz peeled tomatoes with their juice
salt and pepper
Clean the fish by removing all the scales using a small knife. Do not scratch too hard, mullets have a delicate flesh and you could damage the fish. Slit each mullet lengthwise and remove the guts, but do not cut the fish into fillets. Give a final wash under cold water. Allow to air dry while you prepare the sauce.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high flame. Sauté the garlic for 2 minutes, then add the chopped celery. Once the garlic darkens in color, add the chopped parsley and gently stir the ingredients for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes of simmering, add the red wine and stir.
Lay the mullets in the pan. Baste with the sauce and cook the fish over a low flame for 15 minutes in a covered pan – do not turn the mullet. Shaking the pan and basting every 5 minutes is recommended. After 10 minutes, add the minced parsley. Put the fish onto a plate using a spatula, cover with the sauce and serve.