Cacciucco, or chickpea soup amidst the snow

Cacciucco, a fish soup associated with Tuscan coastal towns such as Livorno, Viareggio, and in my case memories of a camping holiday in Castiglione della Pescaia where I had these rather romantic visions of the good life in a tent until the people in the tent next to us started singing Carpenters songs. I have nothing against Carpenters songs, just not when they’re emanating from the tent next to me. (Long story. ) And it turned out I don’t really like camping quite as much as I thought I did. I like the idea, but the reality leaves me somewhat – err, uncomfortable. Airbeds don’t do much for a bad back.

Castiglione della Pescaia on the other hand is beautiful, as is the whole of the Maremma region, some of which is a natural park, and if you’re planning a trip to Tuscany it’s definitely an area to consider. Outside August though, which pretty much applies to any Italian holiday, if you can.

But back to the cacciucco. There’s also a chickpea version which would be a cacciucco di ceci rather than a cacciucco di pesci, and this is what I decide to make today. It felt ideal for the day as it’s snowed again, although the Big Snow forecast was nowhere as big as expected. “Mum, we have three centimetres of snow!!!” Precisely. I wasn’t planning to make cacciucco today but I’d spent the whole morning dreaming of Tuscan towns (and naturally Tuscan food) as we’re planning to go there at Easter. And so cacciucco it was.

As with most traditional recipes, there are many variations. One recipe I found said to use shallots, but as I didn’t have any, I just used a red onion. You could use half but I used a whole one because I love onion, chopped finely and lightly fried with a whole head of garlic. I didn’t chop the garlic as it was rather large and I think the trick with garlic is to use it to flavour without letting it overpower the whole recipe. (If in doubt, use it whole.) I then added two packets of chickpeas, having drained them first of their juices. Of course you can also add the juices, I just prefer not to. Then add a washed and chopped bunch of Swiss chard, a generous tablespoon of good quality tomato passata and cover with just enough water to cover the chickpeas. The Swiss chard will steam anyway. Add salt to taste, and simmer until the chard is cooked. Some recipes suggest you use stock instead of water but I didn’t as I didn’t have any fresh to hand, and it was still very tasty.

Drizzle the soup with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. You can choose to keep this vegan, or sprinkle with grated cheese, in which you case you would need a firm Tuscan pecorino if you can get it.

Ideally this should be served with toasted Tuscan bread that you can either serve with the soup ladled over (in which case the bread will go all squishy and effectively become part of the soup) or on the side. I ate mine with a wholemeal nut roll of the type that I’m pretty much addicted to at the moment.

Serve, and dream of Tuscan hills.

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