Baccala’ alla Vicentina con Polenta
Baccalà has always been a bit of a query for me, unsure whether or not I like it and a bit terrified to try to cook it. In most places you can find it at any time of year, but I suppose that in Puglia, it is traditionally made around the holidays. I had been seeing a lot of it at the markets here, but none of it had been soaked. My mother-in-law insists that the only way to buy it is spugnata, or sponged, otherwise you will be soaking it for days with numerous changes of water to get the salt out and to completely hydrate it. I finally found it at my fish market and decided to give it a try. My husband decided it would be his task and took over, tired as I was from cooking for a crowd, I gave him the reigns. It is good for him to keep his hand at cooking, it’s been a while. I’ll wait until the next time I find it at the market to give it a go.
I am unsure how long my fishmonger had soaked it, but have a feeling that it needed a bit more soaking, it was still terribly salty. I loved the way that my husband made it, alla vicentina, with milk, spices, anchovies and capers. Ingredients you would never see together in a Southern Italian recipe, it is interesting how they all stem from the same root and can still be so different. I am surprised that my Neapolitan husband would ever cook fish in milk, but he did, god forbid you ever grated cheese over a pasta with tuna!
We served it with polenta, which is a traditional starch that you eat it with. Vicenza is in the rice and corn eating region of the Veneto. I have only visited Venice, but recall that I never saw pasta on a menu, and when we did, we always passed that restaurant by, seeking out the local specialties. I have yet to visit Vicenza, but look forward to the day that I do. I know I will go home with a happy belly.
Baccalà alla Vicentina con Polenta
- 900 gr. (2lb) baccalà, previously soaked
- 2 abundant cups milk
- 1 large white onion
- 3-4 oiled cured anchovies
- 1 tbsp capers
- 1 cup white wine
- 5-6 tbsp grated parmigiano reggiano
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- flour, as needed
- salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste
- Remove skin and bones from the baccala. Cut into small pieces.
Heat oil in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. When the onion starts to sizzle, add the white wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates. Add the anchovies and the milk, bring to a boil and remove from the heat, allowing to cool.
Mix the flour, cinnamon, parmigiano, minced capers, salt and pepper in a plate. Coat the pieces of baccalà in the mixtures and arrange them in one layer, in a large greased casserole dish.
Pour the milk over the baccalà, covering it.
Bake at for an hour and a half at 160°C (320°F) without stirring it, but shaking the pan every once in a while. When the cooking time is through, the baccalà needs to be dry, by soft with a golden crust.
for the polenta
- 5 cups cold water
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup yellow polenta, medium grind
Pour the water and olive oil into the heavy pot, drop in the salt and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Pick up the polenta by handfuls and let it rain into the water through your fingers (lovely metaphor), whisking steadily with a sturdy whisk, until it is all incorporated. Return the polenta to a boil over medium heat, still whisking. When big bubbles start bursting, lower the heat to keep the polenta perking, and set the cover ajar on the pot. Stir frequently with the whisk or wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot as the cereal thickens. Cook for about 25 minutes or until the polenta is glossy and pulls away from the sides as you stir; for this dish it should be soft, not too firm. Turn off the heat and cover the pot to keep the polenta hot.
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