This week’s recipe is all about nostalgia for me. One of my best friends lives in London. Originally from the Veneto region, I used to visit her often here in Italy before she moved. During these visits we spent our time enjoying all the treats her mother turned out of the kitchen, and even more around town. Venetian-born, London-resident food photographer and writer Valeria Necchio fits my friend’s same profile. Every time I see Valeria’s Instagram feed, I miss my friend and the great food from the Veneto region, so I thought it would be great to invite Valeria to share a bit of her culture. She chose polpette di baccalà, cod fritters. The recipe uses salted cod, a common ingredient in Venetian cuisine, so leave yourself a few days for soaking. –Kristina
About Valeria: Valeria Necchio is a food and travel photographer and writer of Venetian heritage. A curious eater and keen home cook, she shares her cooking endeavours on her blog, Life Love Food, punctuating her stories with bright images shot in her tiny, yet very well lit, London apartment. Valeria’s work has been featured on a number of online and print publications, including Food52, Kinfolk, Die Zeit and Chickpea Magazine. She is a food columnist for leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Find her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.
Polpette di Baccalà
Venetians have created some confusion by calling stockfish “baccalà,” while the rest of Italy use that same word for salted cod. Most Venetian baccalà dishes indeed have stockfish (stoccafisso) rather than salted cod as the basic ingredient. However, since stockfish is not an easy-to-find kind of product, salted cod can usually be used in its place, with very satisfactory, if only slightly “unorthodox,” results. A quick note about the soaking: you should allow the cod to soak in plenty of cold water for at least 48 hours, changing the water at least four times during this period. This will ensure your polpette won’t be too salty.
Makes about 18 medium polpette
2 medium floury potatoes (about 17.5 oz / 500g)
16 oz (450g) baccalà (salted cod fillet), soaked
2 bay leaves
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 garlic cloves (2 whole and 1 finely minced)
3 eggs, divided
Grated zest of half an unwaxed lemon
4 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Scant 1/3 cup (50g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (100g) breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sunflower oil for frying
Peel the potatoes and cut them in quarters. Cook them in plenty of boiling salted water until tender, then drain and allow to cool. When warm, mash them and season with a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.
Drain the cod from its soaking liquid and rinse well under running cold water. Place in a heavy bottom saucepan and add enough cold water to cover the fish. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns and two garlic cloves, cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as the water starts boiling, remove from the heat and allow the fish to cool in its cooking water.
Once the cod has cooled a bit – the water should feel neither warm nor cold, around your body temperature – drain and transfer to a large bowl. Discard skin and bones, then mash it roughly using a whisk.
Add the mashed potatoes, three egg yolks, lemon zest, minced garlic and parsley. Stir to combine into a creamy paste. Roll the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of this mixture in your hands to form a ball. Press it down gently to make it slightly flat. Roll it in flour, then transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment. Repeat until you finished all the mixture.
Heat the oil in a deep skillet (I used a cast iron skillet) and bring it to a temperature of 340F/170°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature of the oil by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil: if bubbles form around it, you’re good to go. Keep a plate with the breadcrumbs and a bowl with the whisked egg whites handy. Once the oil is hot, start rolling the first batch of your polpette (about 5-6, depending on how big your skillet is) first in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, then into the skillet. Fry for three minutes or until deeply golden. Drain using a slotted spoon and transfer to a large plate covered with absorbent kitchen paper. Repeat in batches and serve as soon as you finish – these are best eaten hot.
Why Valeria loves this recipe: Venetian through and through, I never say no to a cicchetto (a small bite) and a glass of spritz no matter the time of the day. I love the playful and convivial nature of cicchetti, and the local habit of hopping from one bar (bàcaro) to the other, grabbing a drink and a snack at every stop. These polpette, although not strictly Venetian, combine the concept of one of my favorite cicchetti – the polpetta (a fried ball of either tuna or meat) – with a very traditional Venetian staple – baccalà (salted cod). They require a bit of forward planning, as the cod needs to soak for two days, but then they come together very easily. They are great served piping hot with a very icy spritz or a glass of bubbly, either as an appetizer or as part of a bigger cicchetti or tapas feast.