Lillian's Christmas Bacallà
I'll never forget my first taste of Donna's grandmother's bacallà, a savory stew made from salt-preserved cod which is always the centerpiece of the Seven Fishes menu at Donna and Pat's house on Christmas eve. Donna's grandmother, ninety-two-year-old Lillian -- "Big Nonna" to her extended family -- still makes it every Christmas at her home in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Baccalà is better known to a lot of New Englanders as salt cod -- a staple on the long sea voyages of whalers and traders in colonial days. It's also important in Portuguese and Puerto Rican cuisine (it's bacalao in Spanish), as mentioned in my recent post on Serenata de Bacalao.
Lillian Quadri's Baccalà
Note: this dish takes some planning. The salt cod has to soak for two days before you make the soup, and the soup is best if you make one or two days before serving, so you need to start at least 4 days before you plan to serve it.Ingredients
- 2 pounds salt cod (baccalà or bacalao), cut in 1" pieces
- 2 medium onions, peeled and cut in 1" chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, cut in 1" chunks, with juice
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 5 medium boiling potatoes, peeled, cut in 1" chunks
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cover fish with cold water and soak, refrigerated, for two days. Change the water at least twice a day. Drain well.
2. In a deep heavy pot, sauté the onions in the oil on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for five minutes or until tender and starting to brown.
3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, potatoes, baking soda and the fish and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about twenty minutes. Do not adjust seasoning at this point.
4. Refrigerate for a day or two, stirring occasionally.
5. When ready to serve, reheat gently and then correct the seasoning.
Serve in shallow soup plates. Place several pieces of fish and potatoes in each plate and pour a ladleful of the beautiful red sauce over them. Garnish with the minced parsley and pass a pepper grinder.