Baccalà con patate

Here’s a bit of trivia for you – Italy is second among nations in the consumption of baccalà.  What is baccalà, you might ask?

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Photo from http-www-academiabarilla-itricettelaziobaccala-alla-romana-aspx.jpg

Baccalà is merluzzo, or cod, which has been salt-dried, and is later rehydrated, cooked and consumed.  Baccalà is a relative to stoccafisso, or stockfish.  Legend has it that Norwegian Vikings used to air-dry cod and take it with them for nourishment on their overseas travels.  At the same time or shortly thereafter, whale hunters from Spain’s Basque Country devised a similar plan to support their nutrition needs on whale hunting trips.  Due to the higher temperatures in the Southern Mediterranean, though, the Basque people salt-dried their cod instead of air-drying it, to save themselves from an otherwise very fishy-smelling voyage.

Baccalà

Once considered a food of the people, baccalà is now a delicacy across all of Italy, and is prepared in a multitude of ways, in venues ranging from the household Italian kitchens to high end restaurants.  Recipes abound, their names often reflecting an Italian region or city: baccalà alla vicentina, baccalà alla livornese, baccalà alla romana, baccalà alla napoletana, baccalà alla calabrese.  

Baccalà is also essential to la Cucina Romana.  Filetti di baccalà are reliably found on the menù of all Roman pizzerie.  These batter-fried pieces of baccalà are the Eternal City’s preferred pre-pizza appetizer.  Moreover, entire baccalà stores, called baccalerie, supply any type of baccalà or stoccafisso you desire.  Alimentari Micheangeli, located in the working class Roman neighborhood of Centocelle, is one such baccaleria.

When Stefano was a bambino, his grandmother had a little neighborhood alimentari, where she sold salt-dried baccalà, and also had a large basin of cold water with rehydrated baccalà ready for shoppers to buy and cook.  Baccalà con patate, a favorite of Stefano’s father, Andrea, was a frequent meal in their household during his childhood.

Remember, you need to start soaking the baccalà the night before!

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
One filetto di baccalà (salt cod fillet)
Half of a medium onion
8-12 medium potatoes
1 28-oz. can (in Europe, a 1 kg. can) of plum tomatoes
1/3 olive oil

Directions
At least 24 hours prior, place the salt cod fillet to soak in cold water.  Change the water every 3-4 hours as possible (don’t worry about changing the water overnight).

Baccalà

Chop the onion and cut the potatoes into small, uniform pieces.  Place the potatoes and onion into a large pan with 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first.  If you don’t have a food mill, use crushed tomatoes, or run the whole tomatoes though a food processor or blender.

Baccalà con patate

Add a glass of water, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft, adding water and lowering the heat as needed to prevent it from burning.  You do not need to salt the mixture – your fish will provide enough salt once you add it.

Baccalà con patate

Remove the fish from the water, rinse it and pat it dry.  Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces, and add it to the potato, onion and tomatoes.  Cook covered for approximately another 20 minutes, time for the baccalà to become tender and release its flavors.  After 10 minutes, taste for salt and add a bit if needed.

Baccalà con patateBaccalà con patate

Serve hot with crusty bread and a chilled glass of crisp, earthy white wine that can stand up to the saltiness of baccalà, such as Verdicchio or Frascati.

Baccalà con patate

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11 Responses to Baccalà con patate

  1. As you may know, I’m a baccalà maven. I think I’ve made it most fo the ways you mention, except alla calabrese, but now I’m going to try! And boy do I miss those filetti di baccalà—I lived quite close to the eponymous eatery in Rome off the via dei Giubbonari, by the way.

    In any event, this version looks very nice. Baccalà and tomatoes and potatoes go so very well together, don’t you think?

    • duespaghetti says:

      We did not know that you were a baccalà maven, Frank! The baccalà with potatoes and tomatoes is such a nice and hearty winter dish. It got us craving fried filetti di baccalà, however, so we may need to make those next.

  2. Adri says:

    Well, I just saw Fran’s comment, and his opening line, along with your terrific article, shames me! Somehow I just can’t get myself to try it. Call me a head case. Call me a picky eater. Call me a creature of habit, but we did not eat in our home when I was growing up, and so I know next to nothing about it. But I certainly will say that your finished dish looks wonderful! Thanks for Baccala 101!

    • duespaghetti says:

      Adri, Stefano has always been a fan, but it took me a while to warm up to baccalà. I think it simply became impossible to live in Rome and NOT eat baccalà, so over time I have grown to appreciate it.

      • donkeycafe says:

        Hi from Toronto,
        My parents are from near Rome, and baccala is one of those dishes we had as kids at Easter or Christmas. I’m preparing this exact recipe for my 3 young kids right now! I remember how to make it just from memory of my mom’s dish. I’ve had a huge slab of bone-in cod soaking since Thursday night and it’s Sunday afternoon now ( thicker piece needs more time to soak). You can sample it for salt along the way (it’s already ‘cooked’ through the salt curing process). This will be a great dinner following an afternoon of skating. I find baccala dishes in general really simple to make and very enjoyable. Another fantastic Roman style recipe with baccala (where I prefer boneless), is to simply soak per usual, then quickly boil until it begins to flake. Drain well, break up in a bowl and mix with chopped parsley and your best olive oil ( do not skimp on this!!!). I’m not talkin’ your $8 bottle from the supercenter. Fresh ground pepper. Finely minced garlic to taste. You can also toss this with orrechiete or spaghetti pasta, toss on a can of white beans (canelli) if you feel like it, add more garlic and olive oil, easy……..enjoy! Have a glass of wine, healthy and delicious.

      • duespaghetti says:

        Mmmm…sounds delicious!

  3. Rusty says:

    I’m really not sure about this dish although remain fascinated by it and have shown it to my wife who cooks me beautiful fish dishes. she usually says little then surprises me by cooking new dishes so I expect it to be served one day next week.

    I will return with my findings!!!!!

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