Fish and tomatoes are inseparable from Italian cuisine. And, surprisingly, so does cod from the far north. Of course, the simple and quickly prepared dish tastes just as good with other types of fish that have a firm fillet.
Italy and fish
The Mediterranean with its fish and seafood, has long been the livelihood of many families in Italy and has shaped Italian cuisine since time immemorial. But trade and exchange with other countries influenced the menu as well: for example, Italy has been one of the biggest importers of cod from Norway for centuries. The baccalà or stoccafisso is caught in the North Atlantic and air-dried for at least three months. Stockfish is prepared in stews, in tomato sauce, as a spread, etc.
How stockfish came to Venice
Legend has it that in 1431 the Venetian merchant traveller Pietro Querini got caught in a violent storm on his ship on the Atlantic. They found shelter on one of the Lofoten Islands in Norway. During the three winter months the men spent there before returning, they ate cod every day. Eventually they filled the ship's hold with dried specimens. The cod was then successfully sold back home in the Serenissima.
The church and the cod
The brisk trade in stockfish started a good 100 years later. One indirect booster was the Council of Trent, which established 150 meatless days in the liturgical annual calendar. To ensure that the hard-working population could still feed themselves sufficiently, nutritious and affordable food was in demand. Stockfish, for example! The Venetians learned to refine the Norwegian recipe. Even today, part of the imported cod is dried in Italy, the baccalà. If you want to cook with it, soak the fish for at least 1 day, changing the water more often.
Cod au gratin with tomato-fennel vegetables
- 2 bulbs fennel
- approx. 10 cherry tomatoes
- olive oil, extra virgin
- approx. 20 olives, Taggiasca
- 4 slices cod, fillet approx. 200 g each
- 500 g breadcrumbs
- 100 g parmesan, cheese grated
- olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan oven). Wash the fennel and cherry tomatoes. Cut the fennel into slices, removing the hard stalk. Spread the fennel slices and tomatoes on an oiled baking tray, season with salt and a little olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the fennel is soft. After 15 minutes of cooking, add the Taggiasca olives.
- Meanwhile, fry the cod slices in an oiled pan for a few minutes on each side. Season with salt and remove from the pan. Wipe the pan dry if necessary. Now toast the breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt and a little oil until golden brown. While still hot, place in a bowl, add the grated Parmesan and stir quickly so that the ingredients mix well. Roll the cod in the breadcrumbs.
- Remove the vegetables from the oven. Increase the temperature to 180°C (fan oven). Put some oil in a casserole dish and pour in the cod with the remaining breadcrumbs. Cook the fish in the oven for 5 minutes until au gratin. Be careful not to let the breadcrumbs get too dark.
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