Polenta and baccalà is a recipe appreciated throughout the Veneto region: these poor dishes are often prepared on Friday, a tradition born of the desire not to break the rule that prohibits eating meat on the fifth day of the week during Lent.
The basic ingredient of this Venetian delight is the stockfish, a dried fish that is then beaten, wet and cooked.
. « Chi xe che gà inventà ‘Polenta e bacalà’? Disimelo creature ’sto nome, ’sto portento, che toga le misure per farghe un monumento….. (Who is the one who invented “Polenta and baccalà” -Tell me creatures, this name, this portento, which takes measures to make it a monument) … ». The Venetian tradition of baccala is all in this sonnet by Agno Berlese, who celebrates the passion for a dish that has become cult: ” L’imbalsama, el sublima, el sazia, l’incocona..”(Fill , sublime, satisfy the palate and the belly.)». The dish is living a second youth, also rediscovered by the young. As shown by the novelty of the “happy hour”.
Baccalà: between origins and legend
Messer Piero Querini, a Venetian merchant, in 1431 was looking for commercial fortunes outside the Mediterranean. Starting from Candia (island of Crete) with a ship loaded with malvasia, aromatic woods, spices and cotton with the intention of reaching Flanders, it suffered a tragic storm.
The survivors drank loose snow, nourished themselves of shellfish and molluscs ripped to the ocean, until they landed on the rock the inhabitants of another island, close to theirs. The poor survivors were welcomed, fed and cared for by them.
These people had a strange way of keeping their main food, cod. Wiped, salted and dried for months, the fish became hard as a stick. The Venetian merchant returned home after a long journey by sea and land and brought with him the new curious food, exchanging it along the way to Venice, with food, accommodation and transport of various kinds.
We could not forget how much this fish has played a saving role in the canteens of the less fortunate population oppressed by the intransigent eating rules imposed by the Tridentine Reformation. Popular and conservable dish, with a high yield and low cost. The term “stoccafisso” derives from the Dutch stokvisch (stock = stick and visch = fish), ie dried fish on the stick. The origin of the term “baccalà” is more uncertain, however, which in Veneto and Friuli is synonymous with stoccafisso, or dried cod, while in the rest of Italy it means salted cod.
So why is it called Baccalà? Baccalà comes from the Spanish bacalao used for the first time in the early 16th century.
Some think it derives from the ancient Dutch kabeljauw or that it originates from the etymous novel cabilh, capo, testa, or fish testuto. Others still refer to the Latin baculus and that is stick. In short, the origin of the term “baccalà” remains mysterious. Many historians and ancient documents add details on the origin and history of cod grown from poor food to gourment delicacy served in the best Italian restaurants and at the center of the best chef’s dishes!
Recipe of the Paduan version (the original is Vicenza baccalà)
700 g. stockfish already soaked.
3 anchovies in salt.
2 cloves of garlic.
1 handful of parsley.
1 l. fresh whole milk.
½ l. dry white wine (Colli Euganei).
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
50 g. butter.
Salt and Pepper To Taste.
Wash and remove the skin and the thorns from the cod. Cut the cod into pieces and flour it lightly. Wash, clean and remove the anchovy bone. Finely chopped parsley, garlic, anchovies, onion. Melt the butter with the oil and cook the mince. Add the cod and let it brown. Add the white wine and let it evaporate over a high flame. Add the milk, cover the pan with a lid, lower the heat and continue cooking over a low heat for three hours. Serve hot accompanied with yellow polenta.