I write this story while raising the flag of San Marco, a gift from Saturday morning from Venice. What does the cod have to do with San Marco? It is thanks to Pietro Guerrini, a Venetian merchant of the fifteenth century, that we know these splendid (and above all tasty) products.
This brave merchant in search of new opportunities was shipwrecked in the Lofoten Islands of Norway and was hosted by the people of Røst Island for a year before he could return to Venice. During this period he was able to get to know their cuisine and learn how to treat cod.
I don’t know how it was to have to eat cod for a year with the Norwegian recipe … but his mercantile spirit of a good Venetian made him start a trade with these islands and discover a product that has rightly entered many Italian kitchens.
Without the Norwegian ability to preserve cod, the fish could not have come far from fishing grounds. Of the fastest fish of the Baltic there are two variants of preservation: two completely different products derive from this, never to be confused: stockfish and (baccala) cod.
The first, the stockfish that in Naples is called the “stocco”, is obtained by drying the fish in the sun in the strong north wind in Norway and is produced only from February to June. I think everyone has seen at least once in their life the photos of fish hanging in the air like the clothes of Naples on the balconies.
The second, the most widely distributed and produced is baccala, obtained by salting. It seemed the Dutch were hunting for whales in the North Sea, given the abundance of large cod banks, and began to preserve it like whale meat through salting.
However, it was the Portuguese who introduced it to the whole world.
Both preservation solutions have in common the rehydration technique: soaking. And this is one of the secrets of cooking: soaking can last several days, often changing the water, which must be very cold. Now everywhere you can get it already “soaked” but beware, frauds are just around the corner.
I made croquettes from the baccala. Perfect for an aperitif when standing or for a course during a lunch together with a chickpea soup.
Recipe of baccalà croquettes with chickpea soup
First I steam the baccala for a couple of minutes and boil at least one potato. Once it has cooled, I reduce the cod into a pulp and add it to the mashed potato in the potato mash. I recommend: all strictly cold.
You don’t need any salt yet, if you want you can add a little pepper. Let the mixture rest in the fridge and then place the baccala balls in breadcrumbs and fry in abundant oil.
We come to the chickpea soup: here too the “soak” is fundamentally important.
In a saucepan start with a clove of garlic and chopped celery, carrot and onion. When they have taken up flavour we add the chickpeas, the water and the salt (the rule is by tasting).
Cook for about twenty minutes and then put everything into a blender until smooth. Serve on the plate, with the croquettes, with a drizzle of good oil and a sprig of fresh rosemary.
I drank a Trebbiano Teramano, a perfect marriage that convinced me. But make sure it is cool!