Local Food and Seasonal Ingredients

Traditional Italian Christmas Baccala

By Seth Fera-Schanes

Few places around the country have the range of food traditions found in New York.  As people have come and gone from the city over the years, they impart their knowledge of different cooking techniques, recipes and holiday traditions.  This information is then passed on to sons and daughters, grandchildren and cousins.  It is preserved on little index cards in kitchen cabinets, family blogs and homemade scrap books.

My great grandmother immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island in New York harbor.  With her she brought a recipe for a rustic Italian fish soup typically served on Christmas Eve.  This recipe was passed down through the family and the current torch bearer who keeps the tradition alive every Christmas is my uncle.

This baccala dish is simple in it’s preparation but does require some advanced planning.  When using salted fish (in this case cod) it takes a good amount of time to soak and re-hydrate.  You can find the fish in most grocery stores, especially during December.

Please enjoy the following Baccala recipe provided by the Fera family.  Recipe prepared and photo by: Bill Fera

Fish soup made with Baccala and traditionally served on Christmas eve

Traditional Italian Christmas Baccala

Serving size: 10-12
Prep time: 3 days to soak fish
Cook time: 60 minutes

3-4 lbs salted cod
2 – 3 small onions, chopped
1 whole garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 – 28 oz can of crushed tomato
8 medium potatoes – quartered
½ pint of mixed Italian olives (black and green)
1 can pitted black olives
white wine to taste (approximately 1 cup)
To taste: salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, basil, oregano, parsley

Soak salted cod in cold water for 3 days changing water 3 times a day.  Keep refrigerated during this process
In a large pot saute onions in olive oil over medium to low heat until translucent.  Then add garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes
Add crushed tomatoes and raise heat to medium
Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, basil, oregano, parsley
Add potatoes and then add enough water to cover potatoes
Add ½ pint of mixed Italian olives (black and green)
Add 1 can pitted black olives
Bring to boil and then reduce heat to keep a slow simmer in the pot

After everything is simmering add the wine
When potatoes are cooked (and fork tender) turn off heat, add baccala and cover for 30 minutes
Serve with crusty bread

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