Baccalà alla Vesuviana

Baccalà is a clash of cultures. Depending on who you talk to, the Spanish and Italians imported salt cod from Norway and the icy waters of the North and, giving it a Southern makeover, transformed it into the Baccala or Bacalao that we are more familiar with. The fish, which transports well and preserves even better is dried and salted for the purposed of preservation. It is surprisingly non-fishy and, despite the huge amounts of salt, is easy to cook with due to the fact that it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce you place it in.

It does however require at least a little planning, as you should soak the salty fish in cold water for at least a day. If you are wondering where on earth to find it, you can try your local Whole Foods which imports the fish from Galeco Foods in Nova Scotia.

While I usually assoicate Bacalao with the Spanish, we decided on the more Italian Baccalà alla Vesuviana which is prepared with capers and tomatoes. The dish takes on a wonderful tomato flavor, while still being distinctly different. The fish is slightly chewy, but pleasant and is balanced nicely by the Italian flavors, in this case basil tons of basil. I served the cod with a basic cheese risotto, which balanced the strong flavor of the fish nicely and was also a great side to soak up the juicy sauce.

Baccalà alla Vesuviana (serves four)

1 lb salted cod, soaked in cold water overnight
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
4 anchovie filets
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1 – 28oz can chopped tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/2 cup basil, chopped
3 tbsp EVOO
Pepper to taste

One day before you intend to cook your fish, place filets in a bowl, cover with cold water, and place (covered) in the refrigerator. Let soak for 24 hours, changing the water at least three times. If you find yourself with no time, as I did, set your fish in a bowl and cover with water. Place in the sink and let cold water constantly and softly run over the fish for at least 5 hours. When you are ready to cook the fish drain and pat dry.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Saute the onion until softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and cook two minutes. Add the anchovies and cook until disolved, about one minute. Add capers, pepper and tomatoes and turn heat up. Place fish on top and spoon sauce over the top of each fillet. Let cook until warmed, about 5-10 minutes. At the last minute, add the basil, until just wilted. Remove filets and spoon sauce on each.