Acquacotta (Cooked Water Soup)


If anyone asked you ‘Would you like a bowl of soup?’ and then offered you cooked water, you’d likely lose your appetite. Yet that is the literal translation of Acquacotta –  “cooked water.”   It’s reminiscent “stone soup,” which, in folklore, was made with water and a magical stone at its core.

In reality, Acquacotta, which is a traditional Tuscan soup, is rich, tasty and satisfying. It is, at heart, a peasant dish, the broth made by boiling onions with whatever vegetables were available, and served over toasted slices of day-old bread sprinkled with strong grated Pecorino cheese.  No matter how stale or hard the bread, it softened in the soup and made it into a more substantial meal. In poorer households, Acquacotta was no more than sauteed onions simmered in water, with tomato added.  It was served over otherwise more or less inedible toasted stale bread.

Because Acquacotta was made with whatever was available in the pantry, there’s no one formal recipe for a modern version which makes it one of those wonderful dishes that you can vary depending on what ingredients are in season. So make your personal riffs on the theme. Come up with your own version – and send us your recipe.  We love to hear from people who aren’t necessarily constrained by instructions and so contribute to the wonderful world of varied recipes and different tastes.

There are many versions of Acquacotta.  Ours is from the coastal Maremma region in southern Tuscany.

You’ll need:

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups warm water for 20 minutes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 14 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
2 cups water
Salt to taste
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 slices toasted or grilled Italian bread

What you do: 

Remove the porcini from the water, strain to remove any sandy grit and reserve the liquid to use in the soup. Roughly chop the mushrooms.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the porcini and crimini mushrooms and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and the parsley and stir once or twice.  Transfer the mushroom mixture to a large saucepan.  Add the tomatoes, water, porcini liquid and season with salt and pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.

Put a slice of bread in the bottom of a soup bowl, top with the mushroom soup, chopped basil and grated cheese.

John’s Wine Selection
In the Maremma area, they would probably serve the Acquacotta with an everyday red. My Nonna Leonilda kept a gallon jug under the sink as did most of the older Italian women (and men), nothing fancy but carefully selected from the local winemakers, cheap but good. They knew “sapere fare” – how to do things. The special house wine that was sold in bottles at the winery could also be bought by the gallon if you brought your own jug and at a substantial discount. In fact, it was delivered to the register with a generous tumbler to taste. We too have a house wine for such honest fare as the Acquacotta, an inexpensive but tasty chardonnay, find that house wine for yourself, and serve it copiously with these kinds of dishes.

Acquacotta (Cooked Water Soup)