I loved the Livorno style baccalà – salt cod – I had last week at the Orso regional dinner when they ‘visited’ Tuscany. I found a recipe in Antonio Carluccio’s Italia book and was keen to try it out for myself. Carluccio uses red mullet, which I found in a lot of recipes for this dish on the internet. However, I decided to use cod; fresh cod because it was a rather last-minute affair and I didn’t have time to soak baccalà, even though I can buy it in my local fishmonger, Sandys in Twickenham.
Inevitably there were variations on the Livorno theme once I started looking at recipes. I kept Carluccio’s chopped flat-leaf parsley and celery leaves but decided on fresh tomatoes – as Orso had used – rather than passata. I also added Orso’s black olives – which I found in a number of recipes – and capers too, which were also common in the recipe.
First of all I finely chopped a clove of garlic and gently fried it in a pan with some olive oil. Fairly quickly I added 6 small tomatoes which I’d roughly chopped into small pieces. These 6 small tomatoes were all the tomatoes I had … in the end I thought I could have perhaps done with a little more. I didn’t skin them because they were too small, but another time I might buy large tomatoes and skin and seed them. I stirred and cooked the mixture for just a short while before adding coarsely chopped parsley and some celery leaves (which I’d fortunately found on the top of a head of celery I had in my fridge; some recipes I found added thyme instead and I think oregano would go well). I also added a teaspoon of capers. They were the salted kind so I washed the salt off first.
The mixture looked a little dry considering I wanted it to cook down a bit so I added a dash of white wine. I let it all bubble up then turned down to a simmer and put a few olives in too.
I reckoned that with the olives and capers (even washed) the sauce was likely to be salty enough but I did grate in some black pepper – do check seasoning at the end before serving. Once it had cooked gently for about 10 minutes and was softening and looking more sauce-like, I added the cod which I’d cut into 4 large chunks.
I put a lid on and let it cook for about 5 minutes until the fish was just cooked through and would easily start to flake when I tested it with a fork. I’d decided to serve it on griddled bread, just as I’d had it at Orso, rather than with potatoes or rice.
I’d loved the way the toasted bread – with its slightly charred touch – soaked up the sauce and juices. Make sure you use a good quality loaf and cut a thick slice. I put my piece of toast in a shallow serving dish and carefully spooned over the fish and sauce. I served it very simply with a green salad on the side.
It was a fabulous dish. Not quite as tomatoey as Orso’s but still with a gorgeous flavour. The fish had really steamed on top of the sauce and was perfectly moist and full of flavour. It’s a fairly simple dish and quite quick and easy to make, yet something special. It would work well for entertaining because you could make the sauce earlier in the day and warm it through and add the fish just before wanting to eat. It’s definitely a dish I’ll be doing again.