Sunday, March 21, 2010

BACCALA (Or "What the h... is that?")

The last time we purchased a Baccala (also known as Stoccofisso) in one of the few stores in Vanc0uver where they are available, the woman standing beside us turned and said, "What the hell is that?" My husband, somewhat offended, explained that it is a dried codfish, and that it's very good. "Well, it looks terrible," the woman said. And indeed it does. Horrible. An entire dessicated codfish, mouth agape. Imagine her surprise when she observed that it cost $60.00!!
Don't worry, I'm not going to insist that you buy one, let alone cook it, but it was a staple of the north-eastern Italian diet when my husband was growing up. It was very inexpensive then and fed a large family--with polenta, of course, and Adriana wrote out this recipe in her beautiful hand and mailed it to me in Canada. That's how important it was. And is. We still use her recipe.
If you're brave enough to try this, don't worry. You will have plenty of time to make polenta while the Baccala is cooking. Just for interest's sake, here is how we do it.
Step 1...Get your partner to take it outside or into the garage and beat it with a wooden club until it has broken up a bit.
Step 2...Put the broken fish into a plastic tub or bowl and just cover with tap water. Leave for about 2 days.
Step 3...When you're ready to begin cooking it (in the morning) take it out of the water. It will have broken up quite a bit.
Step 4...In a good-sized pot, saute together in oil a chopped onion, a chopped leek (not the dark green tops) and 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, sliced. Now add a can of anchovies. They will break up almost immediately.
Step 5...Add the Baccala, breaking it up as best you can with a wooden spoon. Add a cup or 2 of squished canned Italian plum tomatoes, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add a bit of water, just to cover the fish.
Step 6...Let this simmer on low-med. heat for as long as 4 hours, continuing to break up the fish and adding water as necessary. It should end up being flaky.
Step 6...Near the end of the cooking time stir in some chopped parsley.
Step 7...Just before you serve it, stir in about a cup of milk and let it heat again.
Step 8...Serve it over polenta, just made (soft) or roasted.
This will last for days. I'm warning you, you have to make it if you want to taste it, you certainly can't buy it anywhere.
It's not difficult to do, just time-consuming. But if you know anyone who grew up in that north-eastern part of Italy they'll cry when you serve it to them.
Cooked in this fashion it is known as Baccala alla Vicentina.
Be sure you don't buy salt cod.
In bocca al lupo!!

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