From the sea and the lagoon

From the sea and the lagoon

Emiko Davies
21 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

Seafood in the maremma


see Horse Mackerel


Known as acciuga (acciughe plural) or alice (alici plural) in Italian (Engraulis encrasicolus), the anchovy is one of the most plentiful, cheap and important fish in the traditional cuisine of Argentario and the Tuscan archipelago. This rich, nutritious fish belongs to the family of sardines, pilchards, shad and herrings and, together with mackerel and bonito, is collectively known as pesce azzuro (oily fish). Fresh anchovies are versatile in a Tuscan kitchen – fried (as in Alici Dorate), part of a frittura, baked in gratin or cooked in sauces to coat pasta. You can also buy preserved anchovies, packed in salt or oil. Tinned sardines are wonderful for turning into a quick salad, such as Insalata di Pesce.


Palamita (Sarda sarda) is a relative of the mackerel or scombridae family. With its meaty flesh, in many ways it resembles tuna (and can be used much like tuna). Versatile and tasty, this Mediterranean fish can be prepared in brine and preserved in oil or fried and marinated in vinegar as in Scaveccio. It was popular, even in ancient Roman times.


see Squid


Known as arselle in Tuscany, telline in Italian, or wedge clams in English, these small, flat bivalves (Donax trunculus) have a white to grey to lavender (usually inside) hue. They are normally around 2 cm wide but can grow to 3½ cm. They’re similar to Australian pippies or pipis (plebidonax deltoides or sometimes known as donax deltoides). Vongole verace (ruditapes decussatus or venerupis decussata), or carpet-shells, are native to the Mediterranean Sea and found in the North Sea and British Isles. They are one of Italy’s most famous and beloved shellfish.


Nasello, merluzzo (Merluccius merluccius) or hake refers to fresh cod, but Italians more often than not eat a version of dried cod – stoccafisso (which is air dried) or baccalà (salted and dried). In Argentario there is a speciality known as stocchetto, a dried and salted fish (similar to baccalà) known as ficamaschia, the local term for melù or blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou), which is part of the cod family. It’s a rather plain-tasting fish that is either crumbed, fried like the Alici Dorate or used in a rich tomato stew with pine nuts and olives. Haddock is a good substitute.


Known as seppia (Sepia officinalis) in Italian, this large creature is often found covered in its own black ink in piles at the fish markets. Deliciously tender when slow cooked, cuttlefish can be used just like octopus or calamari in recipes such as Polpo e Patate or Calamari e Funghi. See also Octopus and Squid.


Also known as catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) and by a number of other names, in Italian it is gattuccio, from ‘gatto’ for cat. This small ground shark, boneless and delicate, is often used in fish soups like Caldaro. It is common in British waters and was often found in fish and chip shops under various other names, including rock salmon, rock eel, huss and sweet william – the equivalent to flake in Australia.


European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is simply known as anguilla in Italian and is generally considered an endangered species in Europe. Orbetello’s lagoon has long been an important place for the eels (which travel for miles through freshwater rivers, saltwater lagoons and the open sea during their lifetime). As a result, they’re part of the traditional cuisine. Traditionally, smaller eels are used for the centuries-old speciality Scaveccio. Tòrta or pantanina is the name local fishermen use to describe the pale, silvery ‘blond’ colour that the eels take on at a certain stage of their life (in English, fishermen call them ‘silver eel’). They’re exceptionally tasty, with a delicate skin and are caught during the spring and autumn while travelling towards the sea from the lagoon. In contrast, moray eels (Muraena helena) and conger eels (Conger conger) – known respectively as murena and gronco in Italian – live purely in the sea and are used in traditional fish soups like Caldaro.

Gurnard, tub

Known as Gallinella or capone (Chelidonichthys lucerne) in Italy, this is a pretty but unusual-looking fish with an enormous head and a duck-like face. Also known as a sea robin, it feeds off crustaceans and is much appreciated in Italian kitchens for its firm white flesh. It’s particularly loved in soup, such as Caldaro.

Horse mackerel

Despite its English name, Sugarello is from the Carangidae family (which include jacks and amberjack, or ricciola in Italian), not the mackerel family. It’s excellent for frying and marinating, as in Scaveccio.

John dory

Pesce San Pietro (Zeus faber) can be cooked the same way as sole. Little ones are used in fish soup like Caldaro.


Patella in Italian (Patella caerulea) or lampatella, as they are known in Monte Argentario, these are small sea snails hiding in conical shells that sit on rocks on the shore. They give Caldaro its flavour, which is unique to Argentario.


Sgombro (scomber scombrus) is also known as Atlantic mackerel. This fish, with beautiful shimmery blue and dark navy lines running along its back, is one of my favourites. Like its relative, bonito, it is meaty and has a strong flavour. It is excellent fried and marinated as in Scaveccio and its tinned version can make a wonderful, quick salad.

Mantis shrimp

Spernocchie, sparnocchie, pannocchie, cannochie and cicale di mare are just a few of its many names in Italian (Squilla mantis). One of its Italian names means ‘cicadas of the sea’. It is, indeed, a strange-looking creature, but incomparably delicious (and therefore essential) in fish soups such as the Caldaro. When the females have eggs, even better. Their flavour doesn’t compare to other shrimp or prawns, but are perhaps more similar to lobster, a flavour that is highlighted in a simple preparation such as Spaghetti alle Spernocchie.

Mullet, grey

This fish is known as muggine or cefalo in Italian (Mugil cephalus). The intact egg sacs of the females are salted and dried to make bottarga in Italy (mainly in Sardinia and Sicily). In Tuscany, Orbetello’s grey mullet is famous (see Spaghetti alla Bottarga), though there are counterparts all over the Mediterranean, from Tunisia to Turkey.

Mullet, red

Triglie, from the goatfish family, come in two types: triglia di fango (Mullus barbatus) and trigilie di scoglio (Mullus surmuletus). They look almost identical, but the latter has shimmery yellow stripes across its red body (in fact, it’s known as striped red mullet in English) – it’s also the more popular fish, and this is reflected in its price. The ancient Romans were very fond of red mullet and farmed them to try to grow them into huge specimens that would fetch absurd prices. They’re usually about 15–20 cm long, and are still one of the favourite fish in Italy. They have delicate flesh and should be used as fresh as possible. They’re excellent for frying.


In Italy, they’re known as polpo (Octopus vulgaris). Look for the ones that Italians call polpo di scoglio (rock octopus), identifiable by the double-row of suction cups on their tentacles. Moscardini (Eledone cirrosa), identified by its single-row of suction cups, is not as well regarded in Italian kitchens but can be a suitable substitute. Octopus can be extremely tough when cooked, so for centuries many fishermen and cooks have devised different ways to cook it to make it tender. I like to stew it for a long time in its own juices, as in Polpo e Patate.

Prawns (shrimp)

Mazzancolle or gambero imperiale (Penaeus kerathurus) are similar to caramote prawns (Melicertus kerathurus) or tiger prawns (Penaeus monodon). They are wonderful simply grilled or cooked briefly in soup (see Acquacotta del Pescatore. Small prawns, such as school prawns, are good for frying whole as part of a Frittura di Paranza. See also Mantis shrimp and Scampi.


Known also as Dublin Bay prawns, Norway lobster or langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus), they are slim, pretty, salmon-pink lobsters that live in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. British fishermen once threw them back in the water, but in Italy they are highly regarded for their delicate, sweet flavour. In Argentario they make a delicious soup with them (Zuppa di Scampi e Patate) and it’s also common to see them served raw as antipasto, in their shells, with lemon juice and olive oil. They should be prepared very simply, so as not to mask their sweet, lobster-like flavour – you could also prepare them in place of the mantis shrimp in Spaghetti alle Spernocchie.

Scorpion fish, red

Known as scorfano (Scorpaena scrofa) in Italy and rascasse in France, this fish is used mainly for soup, where it is usually cooked whole. British food writer and historian Alan Davidson’s original cover of his culinary classic Mediterranean Seafood (1972) featured this fish. As he says, ‘For me at least, a fine large scarlet rascasse serves as the most apt and memorable symbol of Mediterranean fish generally.’ He notes its importance because it ‘can do something for bouillabaisse which no other fish can do’. And this is true, too, for Italian fish soups like the Caldaro and Minestra di Pesce.

Sea bass, european

Branzino or spigola is highly prized fish in Italy (Dicentrarchus labrax). British food writer Elizabeth David called them ‘one of the finest flavoured Mediterranean fishes’. They are farmed in Orbetello’s lagoon (sea bass has been farmed in the area since ancient Roman times), along with a regular harvest of sea bream, grey mullet and eels. A delicious firm-fleshed fish with few bones, they are good baked (as in the Orata al Cartoccio), or simply grilled and lovely with pasta as a ragu. Sea bass is also known as ragno in Tuscany, which is confusing as it means ‘spider’ in Italian.

Sea bream

Orata refers specifically to gilthead sea bream, a delicious, versatile and easy to prepare fish, wonderful baked whole as in the Orata al Cartoccio. In Maremma you can also find boga (bogue) and sparaglione (annular sea bream), both from the sea bream family. Orata are sustainably farmed in Orbetello’s lagoon. This family of fish are also known as porgies.


see Prawns

Silver scabbardfish

Pesce sciabola (Lepidopus caudatus) is an impressive, vicious-looking fish that, as its name suggests, looks like a long, silver sword – they can grow to a length of 2 metres. In Argentario, you’ll often see it in fish markets and featuring in traditional local dishes. The long shape of its body and smooth skin (they have no scales) is often used to its benefit – it’s wonderful prepared as ‘involtini’, where the fillet is rolled up with a filling inside, secured with a toothpick and baked. It’s a delicious fish (and dish) that is also well suited to frying and marinating.


Calamari (Loligo vulgaris) is easier to handle than huge cuttlefish. Baby ones are known as calamaretti and are great for frying, whole, as part of a Frittura di Paranza. They are commonly fished during the cold months of autumn and winter. In spring, you find totani (Todarodes saggittatus) – ‘flying squid’, which will glide out of the water as an escape tactic. These are small squid with a mahogany tone that will fit in your hand. You can use these for stewing with mushrooms as in Calamari e Funghi.


Sogliola (Solea solea) is a delicate flatfish that is simply delicious prepared in so many ways. I especially like the simple preparation in a lemon juice marinade overnight, to be eaten raw with parsley and olives the next day. In Argentario you can also find four-spot megrim (rombo quattrocchi in Italian and locally called suaci, which is also the name for scaldfish, a kind of flounder); it’s part of the turbot family. Small specimens are often part of soup like the Minestra di Pesce or fried as in Frittura di Paranza. Megrim sole (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis) – also known as sail-fluke or whiff, or rombo giallo in Italian – is a similar relative, and all can be used just like common sole.


Pesce prete (‘priest fish’, Uranoscopus scaber) has eyes permanently set looking upwards, so it’s not a beautiful fish, but it is favoured in Tuscan fish soups, such as the Caldaro, the Minestra di Pesce and Livorno’s cacciucco. They’re not particularly easy to handle – watch out for the poisonous spikes behind their eyes.


See Cod.

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