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Baccala with Tomatoes, Capers and Olives: Baccalà alla Napoletana

A Traditional Holiday Recipe for the Feast of the Seven Fishes

1 Baccala Black

There is something about Baccala that is compelling. Its history. Its staying power. Its prominent place on the Italian Christmas Eve dinner table during The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Possibly the expansive variety of delicious recipes that can be made with this salt cod add to this personal appeal. The ultimate favourite of mine, and interestingly, the oldest recipe on record: Baccalà Mantecato. This is how I came to love Baccala. The white creamy paste made from beating the reconstituted salt cod into succulent submission (sometimes taking well over an hour) hits the palate’s high points: salty, savory, lush and rich.

1 Frozen Baccala 2 Baccala Label

It is so much work to make Baccalà mantecato and I am the only one in the family crazy over it. Everyone likes it. I do cartwheels over it. So, I try different dishes with the Baccalà. I made a deep fried baccala ball last year with the paste on the inside. Not worth the effort as many didn’t even eat a hot one. This year, I decided to make Baccalà alla Napoletana. Tomatoes, capers, olives and fish with parsley? Even the colours of Christmas in the dish held appeal.

3 Soaking Baccala

Baccalà must be reconstituted for two days or more in ice cold regularly changed and preferably constantly running ice cold water. It takes focus and remembering, but is not hard to do. It smells mildly fishy near the bowl.

4 Reconstituted Baccala5 Baccala cut into serving portions6 Floured Baccala

I am constantly making excused for cooking food I am well aware that some, or even most, people in my family will not like. This was a dish that held potential, but I knew that baccalà is baccalà. It is not fresh cod. It has a chewier texture and a fishier flavour than fresh cod. This is part of its appeal and also its downfall. It is most definitely an acquired taste. Surprisingly, Baccalà Mantecato is complete bliss without any fishy flavour and is the dish that is the exception.

7 Fried Baccala8 Fried Baccala Close Up9 Fried Baccala on Plate

The reconstituted salt cod was truly delicious. Chewy. Fishy. Deliciousness.

10 Garlic and Parsley

The sauce was made directly in the pan after the frying with the fried bits adding to the flavour: lots of garlic and parsley.

11 Capers in Salt

Salt cured capers are the only ones to buy. This is the traditional caper preserving method and after a quick rinse, the texture of each caper bursts with briny flavour. The smaller capers are the sought after capers in Italy. Bigger is not always better.

12 Tomato Sauce with Olives and Capers for Baccala

I go weak in the knees for caponata flavours, and this sauce holds a similar profile. One of my favourite recipes is my Eggplant Caponata.

13 Baccala Close up

I was tickled with this dish. It looked gorgeous. It turned out exactly as I had hoped it would. The flavour components were as I expected them to be.

No one else liked it, but I believe many other would. Millions, actually. It is a classic recipe for Baccalà alla Napoletana. I will also be making this again, but with fresh cod. There is no doubt in my mind the entire family would love this made with any similar fresh white fish. It was the texture and the fishiness that was off putting to each person.

Still, I am happy I made it, pleased I offered this opportunity to my family to taste it and learn about their palate and a traditional Italian dish. Next year, I will make a batch of Baccalà Mantecato. It has been a couple years since I have had any and I crave it now. By December of 2014, it will be a stark raving craving.

5.0 from 4 reviews
Baccalà alla Napoletana
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This Traditional Southern Italian recipe is often served at The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. That is what I have started to do with my family, so there is just a small dish made, enough for a taste.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Canadian Italian
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 1 kilo of Saltcod
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • one bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves only (and tender stems) chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 500g canned DOP Tomatoes
  • ½ cup to 1 cup Gaeta or Nicoise olives
  • ¼ cup capers
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or more to taste
  • Salt, as needed, to taste (olives, baccala and capers are all salty)
Instructions
Two Days in Advance:
  1. Soak salt cod for up to 48 hours in several daily changes of cold water
Instructions for the Cod:
  1. Drain cod, pat dry, and cut into serving pieces; small if not the only main dish
  2. Flour and season pieces of cod; fry in large skillet over medium high heat in olive oil
  3. Drain paper towel
Instructions for the Sauce:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F
  2. In the same large skillet used for frying the cod, very lightly saute a soffritto of the minced garlic and chopped parsley in olive oil until it just begins to give off its fragrance
  3. Immediately add tomatoes and simmer gently for 5 minutes
  4. When tomatoes start to melt into a sauce, toss in capers and olives
  5. Transfer sauce to oven proof serving dish; gently add fried baccala to the pan and place in preheated oven for 30 minutes, uncovered, to reduce sauce
  6. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with more chopped parsley for color and serve

 

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About Valerie Lugonja

Educator, Writer, Gardener and Traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home!

Join The Conversation!

  1. Thank you for always introducing me to new food experiences!

  2. I love baccalà is common in Italy with Lemon and OIL as purè for aperitif in Venice

  3. I love baccala! I remember my mom buying the salt cod a few days before Christmas Eve. It was always included in our Feast of Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve. My family prefers fresh cod so I make it with a tomato sauce almost identical to yours! It is also part of our Feast of Seven Fishes. My mom was Sicilian and caponata was one of her signature dishes. My family can’t eat enough of it. Your dish looks delicious!

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      With fresh cod, I believe my family would be the same – the sauce is addictive! Love that we have this in common. A Sicilian mother tells me about the kind of lovely food you were raised on. I have not been there yet, but it is a goal to spend at least 10 days on the island.
      :)
      V

  4. Lauren Andersen says:

    A lot of delightful flavours and a lot of hard work! thank you for making this for us!

    • Valerie Lugonja says:

      Aw – come on – Lauren… did you read the words? No one liked this dish but me. You know it… you were very gracious about how you said it, but your comment doesn’t need to be flattering if you didn’t like the flavours. Just tell it like it is… well, maybe you are. :) ? We all said it would be scrumptious with fresh cod.
      :)
      Momsey

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