This is a typical Venetian recipe, which I have tasted many times in those so peculiar little cafés in Venice where they serve little snacks with a glass of white wine as aperitif.
Unfortunately these wonderful and a little secluded places are disappearing one of the other, because Venice itself is disappearing to become something else. But this will be pehaps another topic to treat in future.
Today we’ll speak only of a cooking recipe.
For whimsical reason I cannot explain and in all cases would not be interesting to explain, I decided to prepare Baccalà mantecato by myself.
The first obstacle was finding here in Switzerland the suitable dried salt cod, since it’s not exactly the most common food over here. But I managed successfully.
Then I started the perilous and long preparation. I desalted the cod; it took 24 hours (the minimum). The dried fish had to be put into cold fresh water which had to be changed every 5 hours.
When this part of the procedure was done, I could boil it in a mixture of water and milk for about 35 minutes, until it was soft and tender. Then I took away manually all the skin and the fish bones. Finally I started the real preparation of the dish, which consists in pounding and crushing the fish energetically with a wooden spoon. One must not use a mixer or any other modern household appliance, food processors and similar…Anathema! The fish must keep its texture it must not be transformed in a sort of homogenized baby-food. Then I started adding little by little a little of pure extra-virgin olive oil, beating the fish with it as if I made a mayonnaise sauce. Actually ii becomes shiny and whiter and creamy like a real kind of mayonnaise, keeping nevertheless is texture. At the end I added a generous dose of pepper and minced parsley and a little, very little garlic
It’s excellent to eat, at room temperature, spread on a warm grilled slice of rustic bread or with polenta.
Now maybe one might wonder how it happened that a dried fish from Baltic Sea had been adopted as main ingredient for a typical Venetian recipe (speaking in general of Italian cooking is nonsense. In Italy recipes are basically quite different from region to region)-
Many events, if not all, in history are based on chance. In 1432 a Venetian nobleman, Piero Querini, was shipwrecked in Røst, in northern Norway.
He happily survived to that dramatic accident and, considering that it happened in winter, he was really lucky.
Of course Piero remained grounded there for a rather long time, before getting another ship to come back to his homeland, so he had time to get familiar with local tradition and was very intrigued by the habit local people had to conserve fish for long time with that technique. When he arrived back to Venice, he took with him a good quantity of dried salted cod and Italian merchants started bartering that northern fish with other good as fabrics, favouring the diffusion of fish in the inland areas where there is not any sea.
The success of dried fish was increased by …religious reasons! About one century after Piero Querini’s shipwreck the Roman Catholic Church held an ecumenical council in Trento (I refuse to bore my two or three reader with detailed description of this event) and among the huge number of precepts and doctrinal statements, it was also decided that a series of rules would have imposed on the faithful Catholics the obligation of abstaining from meat in certain specific days, but the fish was accepted. People found easily a way to conjugate rich and good cooking with the absence of meat, exploiting all the possibilities offered by fish together with many ingredients.
So Northern dried salt cod from Baltic Sea became a tradition in Italian cooking.