- 1 kilo (2 lb) dried codfish
- Flour, q.b.
For the soffritto:
- 500g (1 lb) onion, thinly sliced
- 4-5 anchovy fillets
- A handful of parsley, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- 200g (7 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- More olive oil
Begin, as mentioned, by soaking the baccalà in water. Depending on how long it has been cured, baccalà can take as much 24 hours to soak, or as little as 8 hours for some lightly salted, relatively fresh varieties. In any case, for this dish, which is seasoned with anchovies, you will want to make sure that the fish is well soaked and almost all of its saltiness removed. Change the water several times during the soaking period. If in doubt, taste a bit of the baccalà; if it is still very salty, keep soaking. Meanwhile, make a soffritto by sweating an ample amount of thinly sliced (or finely chopped) onion—about half as much as the fish by weight—in olive oil until quite soft and translucent. Season with some salt and pepper, and add a few anchovy fillets and a handful of chopped parsley. As soon as the anchovies have ‘melted’ into the soffritto, turn off the heat. Once the baccalà is ready, dry the fillets thoroughly, cut them into relatively even square pieces and dredge them in flour. Spread a spoonful or two of the soffritto on the bottom of a casserole dish, preferably of terracotta, then lay the pieces of baccalà over the soffritto, snugly but in a single layer. Spread the rest of the soffritto on top of the baccalà. (If you have more fish than will fit in a single layer, then add just a bit of the soffritto on top of the bottom layer, place another layer of fish on top of that, and then spread the rest of the soffritto on top of the second layer. If you have more fish than will fit in two layers, then your casserole is too small!) Pour over enough milk to just barely cover the fish pieces. Then sprinkle the top with abundant grated parmesan cheese. (This is one of the relatively rare cases in Italian cooking where fish and aged cheese are combined—an exception that proves the rule.) Then drizzle the whole with a generous filo d’olio. Now you have two choices: either you can simmer the dish on top of the stove—over very gentle heat—or you can place the dish in a moderate to slow oven (no more than 180°C/350°F, but better at 150°C/300°F). The dish should just barely bubble as it cooks. In either case, the baccalà should simmer for about 3-4 hours, shaking the pan once in a while to avoid the bottom burning or the fish sticking, but not stirring, until the the liquid is almost entirely consumed and the fish is very tender. Your patience will be richly rewarded, as the flavor of the dish is absolutely ambrosial! Serve your baccalà alla vicentina with soft polenta, preferably the polenta bianca that is typical of the Veneto, but in a pinch your average yellow polenta will do fine.