07 February 2016

Baccala, or Salt Cod, Like Nonna Maria Use to Make

Baccala alla Nonna Maria da Venezia

Italians are crazy about Merluzzo Baccala or Salt Cod as it is known in English. You will find it all over in the markets here in the winter especially. Most cod comes from Norway, where the cod is found and fished in the icy waters of the northern seas. They say that it was originally just air dried, but as salt became more readily available and cheap, it became the preferred way to keep the bounty of fish. this method of preservation meant that the fish was easily transported and kept well for at least a couple of years. Baccala  then came to southern Europe where it became very popular and still is, especially for the Catholic countries that use to observe not eating meat on Friday and during Lent. Even though times have changed and the Catholic edict to eat fish on Friday is no longer in existence, salt cod is loved and served regularly in many various preparations. 
The recipe I am sharing today is something I recreated from a dish that Fabrizio's maternal grandmother, Maria, use to make him when he was young and some suggestions I saw on an  Italian TV cooking show.  Nonna Maria  was born and grew up in the Veneto, which is the province that Venice is located in and famous for its love of fish dishes. Nonna Maria once worked as a cook and house keeper for a wealthy family before she married Fabrizio's maternal grandfather, who was born in an old stone house over by where our garden is today. She was known to be a very good cook and is where Fabrizio's mother learned to cook before Fabrizio's parents pursued their dream to open "La Baita" restaurant here back in the 60's.
As they were getting the business built and established, Fabrizio stayed with both sets of grandparents to keep him out from under their busy feet, so he has lots of fond memories of Nonna's cooking. When I served him my version awhile back, he complimented me saying it was just like what Nonna Maria made. I like that kind of compliment. it makes me feel proud to recreate a flavor from his childhood and one I now love as well.
Merluzzo Baccala - Salt Cod
Just like most Italian recipes, this one is a little loose on exact amounts,  quite easy to make and oh so delicious. I tend to make it to fit my cast iron skillet, that my grandmother and mother did a lot of cooking in too. So this is a nostalgic dish that touches a lot of buttons. So relax and don't worry too much about the amounts, just put it together and either bake it in the oven or cook it on top of the stove like I did. In the end I thought it was a lot easier and true to the fact that Italians are not quick to turn on the oven and make most everything on top of the stove, I thought it worked just fine. Feel free to choose your favorite way, oven or stove. 
Finished dish

Baccala alla Nonna Maria da Venezia

Serves 2 hungry people


500g /1 # salted cod, soaked in cold water for at least 24 hours days, changing the water at least 3 times over the soaking time. 
1 medium to large onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, diced enough for flavor but not enough to overpower
2 medium to largish potatoes, your favorite variety, a somewhat floury potato is good, peeled or not as you like but scrubbed and sliced in to thin rounds. I like them about 1/8 inch or 1/4cm thick so that they don't take too long to cook.
250 - 325ml / 1- 1 1/2 c. milk, as needed. You can use all milk, or half and half, single cream and a heavy splash of heavy cream with the milk for richness if you like
1-2 T Olive oil
1 Bay leaf


Heat a heavy  9 inch or 24 cm sauté pan slowly.   
Prepare your cod by pulling any long pieces of bone that might still be in the fish and peel the skin off. 
Slice fish into thin slices by holding the knife at an angle and cut at an angle to the table. This should make thin slices. Don't worry if the fish crumbles some. 
Thinly slice the washed potatoes with or without peels. 
Once you have all of your ingredients assembled and prepared, begin to sauté the diced onion and garlic. 
Add the bay leaf.
Once the onion has begun to turn translucent, lay slices of fish in a single layer on top of the onions and garlic. 
Next cover the fish and onions completely with the potato slices.
Pour the milk or milk and cream combination over the whole top of the potatoes. 
Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with black pepper and paprika. 
Cover the top and cook over low heat till all is bully and the potatoes are done. 
Remove the top if it seems too soupy and you want to reduce the liquid some or if the m ix seems too dry before the potatoes are cooked, then a dad bit more milk. 
You can also cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake it in a moderate oven till all os bubbly. Remove the foil and let the top brown up if you like. 
Serve while hot. 
Ingredients, Layering the pan, Milk added and Paprika dusted, Cooked

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