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Baccalà with spunzali Introduced in southern Italy by the Spaniards in the 15th century, baccalà (dried salted cod) combined with delicious spunzali (spring onions), makes an excellent dish by Dario Ersetti
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Baccalà with spunzali. Photo by Dario Ersetti

Dried cod becomes stock fish, when preserved in salt it becomes baccalà, that is dried and salted cod. In northern Italy stock fish is mostly used, whereas in the south dried salted cod. Stock fish arrived for the first time in Venice thanks to Pietro Quirini who, having set off in the summer of 1431 with two other Venetian fellow merchants, after many vicissitudes was shipwrecked and arrived on one of the Lofoten islands, in the north of Norway. From there he then succeeded in returning to Italy with fifty crates of stock fish. It is interesting to read the report of his journey to see how many negative events can occur before an adventure finishes with something positive.

On the contrary, baccalà – dried cod kept under salt –, was introduced in southern Italy by the Spaniards who, together with the Portuguese, fished cod in Labrador and Newfoundland already in the 15th century.

In 1497, an Italian, John Cabot, supported by England, reached the coasts of America, probably the present-day Newfoundland, and on his return to England he said, among many other things, that “over there the sea is covered with fish”. The fish were cod, and there were so many that a little further south Cabo de las Arenas was renamed Cape Cod.

In Italy the use of dried and salted cod is particularly widespread in areas that are far from the coast because of the religious custom during days of abstinence.

It is curious to notice that the famous baccalà alla vicentina and baccalà mantecato veneziano are in fact made with stock fish.

Spunzali are common onion bulbs which have sprouted up in the second year. Once planted, from the bulbs bunches of soft shoots are obtained, which are used in various springtime recipes based on fava beans and peas, or in soups and stews. Very popular in Puglia, they are practically unknown in the rest of Italy, except for some villages in Liguria where they are called cipolle bouse. The green upper part, has a stronger taste while the white lower part is similar, also in shape, to leeks, which are however much sweeter. Spunzali can be found from fall to spring. An excellent way to preserve them at home is to plant them in a flower pot with good soil, as they are normally sold with the roots.

 

 

Recipe

 

4 servings:

 

- 1 Kg of desalted baccalà

- 5 spunzali

- 8 winter cherry tomatoes

- extra virgin olive oil

- salt

 

 

Clean the baccalà (dried and salted cod), already desalted for a few days in fresh water, by removing the bones and the fins. Cut into pieces of 4-5 centimeters.

Fry in a large saucepan in a little olive oil until it becomes golden brown, then remove it gently from the saucepan and place it on one side.

Cut the spunzali into thin slices and put them in the saucepan with the olive oil of the baccalà adding some water, and fry lightly. Add the tomatoes cut into four and as soon as the sauce gets thicker add the baccalà. Cook for about ten minutes adding a little water to prevent the sauce from getting too thick.

Serve hot, maybe on a layer of simulata (durum wheat semolina polenta, sweeter and more delicate than the normal corn polenta).

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