Acquacotta translates to ‘cooked/boiled water’. Doesn’t sound like the most appetizing nor filling of meals. And yet, it is the name given to this traditional Tuscan recipe that was developed by the herdsmen, shepherds and coal miners who worked in the Maremma region and had to live off very few ingredients combined with what nature provided.
Each group would have an assigned cook amongst them who was responsible for turning the few ingredients they carried with them into a hearty meal. They would have a small stock of onions, garlic, olive oil, salted cod and verjuice*. Some cured meat may have been bought along also.
These few ingredients would then be combined with items yielded from their surrounds – wild herbs, vegetables discovered growing amongst the greenery and other findings.
In this way, as is still the case to this day, the food would evolve with the seasons. The cooks were ingenious in being able to not only use the few ingredients found in their surroundings, but also in being able to make such a number of varied recipes from the little they had.
Ironically, these ‘peasant’ dishes were looked down upon by the richer members of society who finely dined on meats and items created with rare and exotic herbs, spices and fruits which were out of reach to the common worker. And yet, these dishes were certainly much healthier, and in fact prevented the onset of many illnesses that plagued the upper classes, such as the gout which crippled members of the Medici family. And nowadays, it is these very peasant dishes that are much more prized meals owing to the amount of time needed to prepare them as the distinction between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ cuisine has all but evaporated.
So whilst the original Acquacotta would have been a poor-man’s dish made from adding any found ingredients into boiling water (hence the name of this traditional Tuscan recipe), nowadays there are a few determined recipe basics. As with any evolved dish such as this, there are many variations and each household will have their own secret methods and ingredients.
But having done some research in the Maremma area, and having even attended a food festival dedicated to this now-prized dish, we are pleased to share with you our findings.
Ingredients for Acquacotta and exact measurements will change according to who is cooking, what looks good at the market, and the like, so this ingredients list is just a rough guide: 4 large onions, half a bunch of celery, 4 carrots, 4 large ripe tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino cheese (or Parmesan), day old unsalted (Tuscan) bread, fresh basil leaves, one egg per person, a good handful of spinach leaves, vegetable stock, salt and pepper. Optional: porcini mushrooms, garlic.
Make a good vegetable stock. You’ll need an onion which has been burned in a dry non-stick pan or over an open flame to bring out that lovely caramel taste. Celery sticks, a carrot or two, some bay leaves, whole pepper corns, a fist full of rock salt, a large ripe tomato and a dash of olive oil all need to be put in a large pot with cold water, then bought to the boil. Allow to simmer until you have a good stock.
Then, in a large pot, cook up some finely chopped onion, carrot and celery in a little oil. We prefer to cook the onion first until it is clear to really bring out the onion flavor, although many will just throw all in together at once. Some people will add in porcini mushrooms here as well.
Once the vegetables are cooked, add in the peeled and chopped tomato. You can easily peel ripe tomatoes by piercing their skin then putting them in a bowl of really hot water so the skin flakes off. Scoop out the seeds too then dice the tomato and add it into the pot, together with a fistful of ripped basil leaves. Next, pour in the broth so it covers the ingredients in the pot. Allow to simmer for at least an hour so all the flavours really come out.
Whilst the soup is simmering away, take bread that is a day or two old, and slice it. Toast it in a dry pan, in an oven (on the rack, not a tray) so it becomes nice and toasty, or even grill over an open fire as the original wandering cooks would have done.
You may rub the bread with a clove of garlic if you like to give it that bitey garlicky taste.
Place the bread in a bowl and cover with grated pecorino cheese (or Parmesan).
Now, as to the eggs, you have two options. The easiest one is to beat the eggs in a bowl then at the very last minute of cooking the soup, pour the egg mixture into the soup and mix it through, before serving it over the bread. The other more tricky option is to serve the soup over the bread, crack an egg on top and place the soup in the oven for a moment to let the egg set (if it doesn’t do so on its own from the heat of the soup itself). Make sure you have oven-proof soup dishes before you do this!
This dish is definitely best enjoyed around a large table, elbow to elbow with some great friends, and served with a light Chianti wine! It is hearty enough to be considered as a complete meal in itself, although with smaller servings you could make it a delicious starter followed by a light meat dish.
To learn about the traditional Italian ingredients and learn to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence.
If you are looking for some other great things to do in Tuscany to enjoy local cuisine, explore the Tuscan countryside in a small group, taste Tuscan wine and the like, we have a great range of small-group Tuscany tours.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore the historic wine estate before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan countryside and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artworks, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, and stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
Whilst our small-group Rome and Venice tours are on summer break in August, we can offer a private guide to accompanying you. We have a great range of fantastic private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.
* Verjuice was very popular ingredient, its acidic taste coming from the pressing of unripe grapes or other fruits. Nowadays most cooks opt for wine or vinegar in their cooking instead, but in the times before even tomatoes were introduced into Italian cuisine, verjuice featured in many a typical dish.