Paolo Ciolli Cooking Lesson Review – “Cacciucco is the Protagonist”


It’s not every day you get to cook with a Cardinal…



Well, chef and showman Paolo Ciolli may only have a business card showing him dressed in Cardinal garb, a part he played in a well-known Italian movie.  In American terms it’s more correct to file him as Italy’s Number 1 Iron Chef. 



He’s hosted cooking shows and currently one that is about showcasing other chefs.  He is a well-known Italian food blogger, in a country that takes its food very, very seriously.




What a treat to go to his apartment in Livorno for a private cooking lesson to make the signature dish of the region, the Cacciucco, which one could call a fish stew with an accuracy akin to calling the Empire State Building a tall building.   It may be true in a narrow sense, but it misses the point by many a mile. 




Cacciucco is a dish of Livorno. 




Technically it’s not a soup or stew but rather derives from a Turkish word that means to mix a lot of things. 




To quote from Ciolli’s English translated book “The Cacciucco”, “Cacciucco is symphony of flavors, harmony of colors, and strong feelings, you have to like it at its first taste, at its first impact like the vision of a painting or a beautiful woman.  Cacciucco is the protagonist and not the hand of the chef that prepares it.  It must be attractive, imaginative and mysterious at the same time, concentrating in a single bite, aromas and flavors that you can easily find in Livorno.”



Ciolli, a historian of food and all things Livorno, tells us that the recipe was born before the discovery of America, which is known because the earliest iterations were without tomatoes.  The recipe is probably tied to the commercial routes that went through Livorno in earlier times, particularly the Jewish families that traveled back and forth to relatives in areas like Tunisia and Libya. 




Like much of Italian cuisine, it was first canonized in the first cookbook to compile the entirety of Italian cuisine and one that is still the #3 book sold in the country today, Artusi’s 19th Century work, “The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining”. 



Every ingredient you find in today’s Cacciucco has a history mainly passed on through oral traditions.  For example, when mussels were introduced to the area they were incorporated in The Cacciucco. 



To talk about The Cacciucco then is to talk about Livorno history, at least in Paolo’s kitchen. 



It was difficult to decide which was more mesmerizing—listening to his history lessons or watching Paolo debone fish with pliers as if it were a graceful ballet or when he dredged an octopus up and down in the broth until it turned orange pink. 


What a feast it was—with each plate getting portions of everything in The Cacciucco, delicious red wine flowing followed by a Livorno sailors’ rum and chased finally with a Lemoncello liqueur. 



To find out more about Paolo Ciolli, Livorno and The Cacciucco, visit his blog.


To purchase a copy of "The Cacciucco" write to Paolo at paolociollichef(at)gmail(dot)com. 


To find out more about visiting Livorno contact

La Strada del Vino e dell'Olio Costa degli Etruschi, (+39) 0565/749768.


Visit the Livorno Guides website to learn more. 





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