Last Saturday I decided to make fish for lunch at the last minute. The problem with shopping for fish at the last minute is that there is often no fish left. Good fish stores in Rome get a limited amount of fresh fish in the morning, selling pretty much their entire stock before they close for the day, often at 1 or 2 in the afternoon
We arrived at one of best fish stores in town, Galuzzi, at about 1:15. Sure enough, we were greeted with a few lonely fish that were either too small or way too big for anyone to buy. And that’s when Domenico spotted a container full of water with big slabs of white fish floating about. “Baccalà!”
Baccalà , or salt cod, has got to be one of Domenico’s favorite dishes, and one that I hadn’t made for a long time. There was a time when, as a good Roman housewife, I would head to the alimentari on Fridays, to buy a few pieces that had already been soaked and were ready to go. But somehow it just fell off my radar. And there was no excuse that it was hard to make, since in Rome it is so easy to buy it pre-soaked.
One of my favorite ways to eat baccalà is alla Vicentina. Made with lots of onions, milk, flour and cheese, it is just about the richest, most satisfying comfort food imaginable. But since we’re trying to eat less this month (hence the trip to the fish store) I opted for a lighter, but no less delicious, recipe.
Most baccalà recipes call for frying or browning the soaked fillets first, before you do anything to them. Instead, I simply sauteed a huge amount of celery and onions, then added the baccalà, along with tons of olives and capers. While you can certainly just use water, wine is better. And if you use my trick of emptying leftover wine into ice trays, you’ll always have some on hand.
And finally a few potatoes, partly to make Domenico happy but also to counteract and absorb some of the saltiness from the olives and capers and any residual salt from the fillets themselves.
I guess the moral of this story is that the early bird gets the best fresh fish. But if sleeping late on a Saturday morning means coming home with a big, fat piece of baccalà, I’m ok with that.
baccalà with olives and capers
2 pounds / 1 kilo soaked baccalà*
4 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 cup pitted olives
1/2 cup capers**
2 potatoes, cut into small chunks
1 cup white wine
In a pan large enough to hold all of the ingredients, pour the olive oil and heat over medium flame. Add onions and celery and let cook for about 10 minutes until softened.
Dry, and cut the baccalà into portion sized pieces and place it in the pan. Add the olives, capers and then the wine. Let the wine bubble for 2 or 3 minutes, and then add the potatoes. Cover and cook until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes or so. If it looks dry, you can add a bit more water.
I find that sometimes the baccalà falls apart, and sometimes it remains very firm. I have a feeling it has to do with the quality and type of baccalà. But even when it falls apart, it’s still pretty good.
Serve topped with parsley if you have some (I didn’t). And of course a big loaf of crusty bread is the perfect thing to sop up all the juices.
*If you can’t find pre soaked baccalà then you must soak it first. Rinse off the fish and let it soak in a big container of water, in a cool place (or in the refrigerator), changing the water several times a day, for two days.
**I used salted capers, from Pantelleria. I prefer salted capers, rather than those preserved in brine. If you do use salted ones, makes sure you rinse and then soak them well, to remove the salt.