Baccala’ alla Vicentina

January 20, 2009 / Food & Wine

A fitting recipe for today… it appears that shortly-to-be-sworn-in President Barak Obama ate baccala’ alla Vicentina con polenta on New Year’s Eve.  And what on earth is that? I know because my journalist husband, Giangi Poli, being from Vicenza, is an expert on this dish: baccala’ (dried codfish) cooked according to the citizens of Vicenza, home of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio!

True to Italian individualistic nature, however, the recipe (according to my husband) varies not only between the city and its neighboring towns, but also among the various neighborhoods of Vicenza itself – and sometimes there are fierce arguments within the same neighborhood! So this is HIS “personal version”.

Salted and dried codfish can be used (fig. 1), like that held up by our Otricoli grocer Ulderico Medici. But then you will have to leave it to soak in running water for at least 24 hours, bone and skin it and remove the tail fin. That is a lot of work but it is possible to buy already prepared fish, ready for cooking. (fig. 2)

For 6 persons (“It is melancholy to eat baccala’ alla Vicentina with less then 6 people”, he says):

1.2 Kg (about 2 ½ pounds) of prepared baccala’.
6 anchovy fillets
3 large onions
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
100 grams butter (about ¼ lb)
300 grams milk (10 ½ oz)
olive oil
120 grams (4 0z) Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
a lot of patience

A tall terracotta pot is best, but a similar heavy enameled pot is acceptable.

Finely chop the onions and the anchovies, grate the Parmesan cheese and add all to the grated parsley; set aside.

Cut the fish into 1½-2 inch pieces and dredge them with flour (fig.3) Fry them lightly in olive oil till firm (fig.4). On the bottom of the pot place a layer of the fish. Sprinkle with some of the chopped mixture and salt and pepper (watch the salt: the fish may already be salty). Dot with a few flakes of butter and add some hot milk almost to cover. Sprinkle with a little oil (fig.5).
Repeat this layering operation till all the fish is used up, finishing with some of the chopped mixture, and add the remaining milk, and some oil. (fig.6)

There are 2 ways to cook it: on the stove, VERY slowly, for about 3 hours. Watch it carefully: it can burn easily. The other, better way according to our cook, is to place it in the oven at 180 (350F.) degrees, for about the same amount of time. Don’t stir. The liquids will be reduced, making a thick sauce.

Baccala’ is always served with polenta.

Polenta for 6 persons:

500 grams (17.5 ounces) of cornmeal
2 ½ quarts salted water

Add the cornmeal to the boiling water and stir for about an hour. Add hot water if the polenta seems too thick.

Patricia Glee Smith

by Patricia Glee Smith

Accomplished artist and very involved archaeology aficionado based in Otricoli, Umbria. Click here to view her artwork.

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