- 1 lb 12 oz cleaned baby octopus and calamari
- 2 lb 3 oz combination of white fish such as gurnard, scorpion fish, john dory, catshark
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, 2 squashed, 1 whole for rubbing on bread
- 1 small bunch Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, stalks and leaves both chopped
- 1 red chilli, chopped
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 14 oz tinned peeled or chopped tomatoes
- 5½ oz mantis shrimp
- 5½ oz scampi, rinsed and kept whole or sliced in half lengthways
- 6 slices of stale or grilled (broiled) Tuscan bread (or other crusty white loaf)
Roughly cut the octopus into smaller pieces (unless they are really small, in which case they can stay whole). The calamari’s tentacles can be left as they are, but slice the body into strips, either lengthways or in rings. The fish can be filleted and only the fillets used, although it’s common to see gurnard chopped into thick steaks, bones included, because they add flavor (if you’re not keen on keeping an eye out for bones in the soup, you can fillet this, too). Small fillets can go in whole, but if you have large fillets, cut them into smaller chunks.
Gently cook the onion, squashed garlic, parsley and chilli in the olive oil with a pinch of salt over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until they all soften. Add the octopus and calamari, turn the heat up to medium–high and cook for 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Pour over the white wine and let it cook over medium–high heat until nearly completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, along with about 1 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for a further 25–30 minutes.
Add the fish pieces, cover and cook for 15 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep it quite brothy. Finally, add the shrimp and scampi and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the soup into a large bowl along with garlic-rubbed bread (some like to decorate the edges of the bowl with it; others like to place a slice in the bottom of each individual serving bowl). Serves 6.
Note: With this quantity of seafood, it’s easier if you can ask your fishmonger to clean the seafood for you. The fish needs to be scaled and gutted and the octopus and calamari should be cleaned, with beaks and eyes removed. Otherwise, follow the instructions for how to clean octopus and calamari below.
Cleaning Calamari. Cut off the head, and remove the eyes and the beak (you will find this in the middle of the tentacles – you can simply pull it out). Then reach into the body and remove the quill (a glassy strip inside the body that looks like it’s made of plastic) and pull out the entrails – do this gently if you want to keep the ink sac intact.
Cleaning Octopus. Prepare the octopus by first rinsing it under a tap. Feel around the tentacles and make sure they are free of any particles, especially if you have bought it fresh. Remove the eyes and clean the inside of the head thoroughly, but otherwise leave the octopus whole.
About this recipe
“Every port in the Mediterranean has its version of a fish stew. Marseilles has its bouillabaisse, and Portugal has its caldeirada, which changes from town to town depending on what the fishermen usually catch. Tuscany’s Monte Argentario has its caldaro, a traditional fisherman’s soup that gets its name from the large pot (like the caldeirada) in which it is prepared. Like other fish soups, this has its variations, changing from household to household and dependent upon what local seafood is available at the time.
Like Livorno’s famous cacciucco, a fundamental part of the stew is that it contains a large variety of the freshest seafood. In this area of Tuscany, you would choose flavorful, fleshy fish, such as red scorpion fish, tub gurnard, john dory and catshark (similar to flake), together with octopus, squid or calamari. Eels are also very typical of this area. You could also add a handful of crustaceans like mantis shrimp or scampi. If you can find them, lampatelle (a type of sea snail known as limpets in English), volcano-shaped seashells that you find stuck to the rocks around Argentario’s coastline, add a strong sea flavor. It is this combination of locally found seafood that makes the caldaro unique.
This recipe has been adapted from the book of Paolo Petroni, Il Grande Libro della Vera Cucina Toscana (1996). Like bouillabaisse, it’s difficult to make small quantities of this dish because of the sheer number of ingredients required – it’s usually made for a large number of people to eat together. This should be enough for six but you could stretch it to eight if eating other dishes along with this, too.” – Emiko Davies
Recipes and excerpts used with permission from Acquacotta by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books March 2017. Photography by Lauren Bamford.