Food trails: Cacciucco

Any talk about Cacciucco has to start with the origins of Livorno.
At the end of the 16th century, the Medici, Grand Dukes of Tuscany, decided to transform the small village that had grown up around the Mastio di Matilde fortification into a city and mercantile port.
Thanks in part to the Leggi Livornine (1590-1603) - a series of laws which invited "merchants from any nation, whether Levantines, Ponentines, Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Jews, Turks, Moors, Armenians, or Persians" to settle in Livorno, promising them somewhere to live, or a warehouse or a shop where they could carry out their business, guaranteeing also the cancellation of any debts, exemption from taxes and the annulment of any criminal conviction - from that time onwards a multitude of peoples from every culture, social status and religion passed through the port of Livorno, turning it into a cosmopolitan, multi-racial and multi-religious city.
Coming back to Cacciucco and its origins, little is actually known. What is certain is that this "delicious, strongly-flavoured dish of cuttlefish, octopus, scorpion fish, dogfish, and other seafood delights, brought together in the same pan and then served in a plentiful thick, almost creamy sauce on a bed of toasted, garlic-flavoured bread in the base of a deep plate", is wholly representative of what is means to be Livornese - of "Livornesità"- precisely because of this mixture of diverse fishy ingredients capable of coexisting in harmony.
Over time, much of the original nature of Cacciucco has probably been lost. While it derived from a need to use inexpensive and strongly-flavoured fish, over the years Livorno's restaurants have reinterpreted the original recipe in order to offer an original take on the dish for their clients, but also to meet the demands of modern tastes. They have done so, however, without distorting what this dish represents, and without taking away the intense, flavourful nature of this very local speciality.

                               Freely adapted from La Storia del Cacciucco by Otello Chelli