Baccalà alla Livornese
Region: Italy, Tuscany
Difficulty: Easy but long cooking time
Leghorn (Livorno) was a small village in 1575 when the famous de' Medici family of Florence decided they needed a more reliable port than the one they were using at Pisa. They commissioned an architect to lay out a new city on a grid plan. In gastronomic terms, Leghorn was later renowned for its fish stew, red mullet, and salt cod. The cod all came from the North Atlantic and was salted on the fishing ships themselves or on nearby land in Newfoundland, Greenland, or Iceland, while some cod was air-dried in Norway. The trade then shipped the salted cod directly to the Mediterranean or overland through France. In fact, Marseilles absorbed half of the French purchase of dried cod and reexported part of it to Italy. Salt cod is a popular food along the northern Mediterranean and after you make this recipe you will see why. All kinds of things can be done with salt cod, ranging from the salt cod with sour cherries recipe of the noted Italian cookbook writer Ada Boni to the batter-fried salt cod with skordalia sauce of Greece. If you have any remaining sauce, it can be used with spaghetti or cooked chickpeas. If you desire, and it is quite nice, this dish can be served at room temperature.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 2 to 4 servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour
1. In a medium-size casserole, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring a few times. Add half the garlic, the tomato, basil, and 1 tablespoon of the parsley, season with salt (salt lightly because the salt cod might still have some remaining saltiness) and pepper, reduce the heat to low and cook until the sauce is denser, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, dredge the fish in the flour, patting off any excess. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 3/4 cup olive oil over medium heat, then cook the salt cod with the remaining garlic until golden, turning carefully with a fork and spatula, about 12 to 15 minutes for thick pieces, 8 to 10 minutes for thinner pieces and 4 to 6 minutes for very thin pieces. Remove the fish, transfer to the tomato sauce, and cook for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon parsley and serve.
Note: Cook the salt cod in batches so you don't crowd the pan. The recipe can easily be doubled.