In my family, the baccalà expert was nonno Remigio, my mum’s dad. My grandfather Remigio used to live all alone in San Gimignano. He raised my mum and Aunt Silvana all by himself. He was a man of old times, a mason, but he was also very good at cooking. I still can taste his sliced meat breaded and fried then cooked with tomato sauce. It was soft and cooked in a red enamelled pan: it is an unforgettable memory.
He used to have a peculiar breakfast coming home from his vegetable garden: Tuscan bread, tomatoes and onion. He loved dried cod and herring: he used to fry herring in his tiny kitchen and you could tell it from miles – the whole house was surrounded by a pungent smell and a thick smoke.
This is how my grandfather Remigio used to cook baccalà, salted cod. He would add potatoes to the traditional recipe: they were fried then cooked in tomato sauce.
RECIPE – Baccalà alla Fiorentina – Florentine’s style dried cod
Let’s talk about the name, first. A recipe for baccalà—dried salted cod—cooked in tomato sauce in Tuscany can be interchangeably named alla Fiorentina (made in the Florentine style), alla Livornese (made as they would do in Livorno), or even alla Pisana, so made following the Pisa’s fashion. According to Paolo Petroni, my reference food writer and cookbook author when it comes to Tuscan cuisine, it is basically the same recipe. What can vary is the use of onion instead of garlic, or if you’ll be keeping the cod’s skin or not.
Baccalà alla fiorentina is best made with fresh tomatoes, but when not in season you can easily substitute them with good canned peeled tomatoes. Avoid tomato purée or passata, as they would miss some of the texture otherwise provided by the hand-crushed tomatoes.
How to prepare and soak baccalà.
Soak the salted cod in a large bowl of water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Replace the water at least twice a day to desalt the cod. Remember to be very careful with salt when cooking with the baccalà, as it might already be very salty on its own, if not properly treated. The following recipe could also be done with stoccafisso, or fresh cod.
How to peel tomatoes.
Rinse the tomatoes and with the tip of a knife cut an “x” at the base of each tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into a pot of boiling water. Cook them just until the skin begins to peel: usually a couple of minutes are enough. Drain them and immediately plunge them into a bowl of iced water, then peel the tomatoes, discarding the skins. Crush them and use them in the following recipe.
Baccalà alla Fiorentina - Dried cod stewed in tomato sauce
- 450 grams dried salted cod, already prepared for cooking (see headnote)
- 2 medium potatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 60 grams all-purpose flour
- 450 grams ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (see headnote)
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- 160 ml extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Fine sea salt
- Finely chopped fresh parsley
- Cut the baccalà into 5cm-long pieces. Pat them dry with some kitchen paper and flour them on both sides. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5mm thick slices, then flour them, too.
- Pour 80ml/⅓ cup of extra virgin olive oil in a large pan, add 2 garlic cloves and the rosemary spring, then heat on medium flame. Arrange a plate lined with kitchen paper next to the pan.
- When the garlic starts to sizzle, gently place the baccalà into the pan and fry for about 4 to 5 minutes per side, until golden. Gently remove the baccalà from the pan and place it onto the prepared dish. Now fry the potatoes, about 5 minutes per side, until cooked through and golden. Transfer the fried potatoes into the prepared plate, too.
- You might find yourself with just a little bit of oil left in the pan. Discard the rosemary and the garlic and, when the pan is not hot anymore, wipe it clean with some kitchen paper. You’ll be able to use it to cook the tomato sauce now and you’ll save a pan.
- Now prepare the tomato sauce. Pour the remaining olive oil into a large pan, add the thinly sliced onion and the last clove of garlic. Season with a generous pinch of salt: this will help you cook the onion and prevent it from burning. Cook the onion of medium-low flame for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent.
- Add the chopped, crushed tomatoes into the pan and cook for 10 minutes, until they collapse into a sauce. Taste and adjust with salt: you want the sauce to be slightly under-seasoned, as usually the cod is quite salty on its own.
- Add the cod and potatoes back into the pan, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, so that all the flavours will be mixed together. taste for the last time and see if you might need a last sprinkle of salt. Sprinkle with some finely chopped parsley and serve hot.
- Any leftover can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. Gently reheat before serving, even though I must confess I also like baccalà alla fiorentina, straight from the fridge.
- Here you can find another baccalà recipe from Livorno, a sweet and sour salted cod. This recipe perfectly represents the Livornese cuisine, made of poor fish, tomato paste and enlivening influences brought by other cultures, all welcomed and absorbed by a town which is not just a melting pot, but a pot of steaming cacciucco.
- If you like this recipe, I’m sure you will love also my recipe for Sicilian Swordfish, from the newsletter archive. Tasty, punchy, a concentrate of Mediterranean flavours, this recipe for swordfish with tomato sauce, olives, pine nuts, and capers is a winner for a weeknight dinner.
This content was first published on May 27, 2009 and was updated on July 21, 2023.