For today (and as a hint to a future article on salt), I thought I’d give you a touch of salt rather than sweetness and opted, instead, for a recipe for baccalà – it’s the one I first tasted and was used by a Neapolitan who taught me so very much about food. Baccalà is salted cod as opposed to stockfish which is dried cod). He was and is truly talented and his knowledge of food is instinctive, spiritual and dare I say, genetic? I believe that Italians are born with a sense of food and art, it is within them and they rarely have to study it. They just have it.
Baccalà is something available world wide and the Portuguese, in particular favour it. For the next few weeks, I will feature recipes for salted cod from all over the world and if anyone has a good one, I will test it, include it and give you credit for it. I already have one or two of my own that I collected in my travels, but I would really love to get yours. So let’s get on with it and start with my version of Baccalà alla Napoletana:
1 kg salted cod
100 ml excellent extra virgin olive oil (why not try Garguilo, organic extra virgin olive oil from near Sorrento). It’s really good.
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g ripe Italian tomatoes, peeled, deseeded & chopped
200 g black, pitted Italian olives, left whole
50 g salted capers, rinsed and lightly squeezed dry
1 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 lemons, zest only
Salt to taste and only if you got rid of it when soaking
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Flour for dredging
Soak the salted cod in several changes of cold fresh water (at least overnight) but to make absolutely sure, break off a small piece and check for saltiness before you prepare it. You can always ask the fishmonger what he would suggest
Preheat oven to 160 C
Remove the cod, rinse well and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into bite sized chunks, discard bones and skin and dredge with flour. I simply put the flour in a plastic bag, toss the fish in and shake to cover all the pieces effectively. Heat half the oil in a heavy pan over medium heat and fry the garlic very lightly until it is just soft. Take the pan off the stove and remove the garlic with a slotted spoon or, sieve the oil into a little bowl. Use that oil and fry the chopped tomatoes, olives, capers and black pepper for about 15 minutes over low heat until they begin to soften and remove. Add the rest of the olive oil to the tomatoes with the zest, salt to taste and half the parsley. Check and correct the taste. Now add the cod and fry lightly over medium heat for about 15 minutes, adding freshly ground pepper at the end. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and bake, covered in the preheated oven for another 15 minutes.
Serve with hot, crusty bread and a bottle of cold Falerno del Massico DOC from the Villa Matilde in Campania. It seems only right that one drinks wines from Campania with this dish that belongs, absolutely to Naples!
Please note that I excluded the discussion on the history of the this fish because it has been scheduled for a later article.