There are many interesting facts about Livorno’s traditional cuisine. It’s said that Livorno’s local dishes are spicy and vigorous because they reflect the character of the mediterranean population that arrived in the 1600s escaping from legal and religious persecutions. Among them, Sephardic Jews (from Spain) who still form one of the most famous Jewish communities in Europe. In fact many traditional dishes in Livorno have Jewish origins.
To do research for our post, we travelled up into the lovely hills surrounding Livorno, to Antignano, to meet Ariela Cassuto, a descendant of an ancient Jewish family and now owner of the Maison de Charme Villa Cassuto.
“Livorno is a true multi-ethnic city. This is shown by the fact that the word Livorno has been translated into many languages. At the end of the 1500s, the city offered a place in which Judaism could be practised freely without being upset by the Inquisition; there was freedom to study, to own properties and to live openly in the city. In fact, unlike other countries, in Livorno there has never been a Jewish ghetto. Along with many Jewish families, exotic spices and the ‘revolutionary’ tomato - recently brought by the Spaniards from America- arrived to the city earlier than in other parts of Europe.”
Today, top local specialties are made with local fish and contain a generous dose of tomato sauce. Straight from Livorno, here are three emblematic dishes (and their recipes):
Along with the cacciucco fish stew, mullet in red tomato sauce is the emblematic dish of Livorno. You can cook it in the oven or on the stove in a pan with a good lid. If you cook it in a pan, don’t turn the mullet so as to avoid breaking them. Here is our recipe.
Baccalà is simply salted cod. The basic ingredients in this recipe also go well with other fish, but salt cod (you must soak and rinse it) is perfect with the sweetness of summer tomatoes and onions. A well-balanced dish that cannot be missed when visiting Livorno, but which you can also prepare at home. Here is the recipe.
Cacciucco Livornese is a very thick and dark fish soup. It’s made from many kinds of fish and molluscs, but not with refined seafood. At the base of the dish there is a mixture of garlic, pepper and sage. Cacciucco contains octopus and cuttlefish, some mantis shrimp and different kinds of blue-tailed fish (of course, the kosher version doesn’t contain any shellfish or seafood). Find out here the recipe.