Recipe by Antifreesz
Baccala Soup, also called Baccala or Bacalave, is the soup of choice for many a restaurant on the New World’s famous East Coast. A fine example of this style of food, in the right restaurant, can warm your soul and quench your thirst. The history of this dish is quite an interesting one, as is its translation into both languages and in the Italian language, as well as English.
Baccala soup was a type of risotto. In the Italian language, baccarat is pronounced “kah-sauh-lauh-tsoo,” while in the French it is more simply spelt as “baguette.” In both languages, the dish became known as a meal consisting of soup, along with bread and other ingredients. This early recipe was adopted from the Greeks, who also used a similar preparation, and from whom we learn the roots of both ingredients – bread and fish. At the time of Columbus, the Europeans learned that they could trade with the Indians of what is now called the Caribbean, and in the process learned the name, baccala.
In the Italian language, baccala means “a platter containing fish” – the dish itself actually consists of a mixture of fish, broth, and other ingredients. Although the origin of the word baccarat is uncertain, the early versions of the dish usually referred to it as “the fish soup of the Italians.” The dish continued to evolve over the years, with different ingredients being added to it. In this way, it became a staple that was served almost everywhere – and, not long ago, was brought to the United States by Italian immigrants.
In early times, the baccala was associated with Easter – the fourth Sunday of Lent. The noodle soup became almost a religion among Italian Christians, with a number of special occasions being devoted to preparing the favorite dishes for Easter. The main ingredients in the recipe were the usual vegetables, along with a stock made from pork or beef, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and herbs. The fish used was always allowed to simmer in water. The ingredients used to make the soup were changed over the years, but the underlying structure remained the same: eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, stock, and spices.
- 1 – 1 1⁄2lb dried salt cod fish, “baccala”-soaked
- 1⁄2cup oil, a good olive oil
- 2 small onions, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 3 medium potatoes, chunked
- 3 cups water
- 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
- 1⁄2 teaspoon thyme
- Soak baccala in a deep pan/bowl filled with water for 2 days;changing water once a day.
- Cut fish up into 4 inch squares;set aside.
- In pot on a medium low flame; put oil,onion and garlic; brown gently.
- Add celery,bay leaf,thyme and parsley; continue browning for 1-2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes; cook 5 minutes.
- Add potatoes; cook 10 minutes.
- Add fish; cover and lower flame.
- Cook slowly; 40 minutes or until potatoes and fish are done.
- Stir in pepper at end of cook time.
Traditionally, baccala would be served warm, with the meat being simmered first. It is not clear when the changeover took place, but we do know that in 14th century Italy, the traditional Italian meal consisted of soup and bread. By the time of Renaissance, balsamic vinegar was used in Italian cooking, and by the mid-Seventeenth century, the combination of meat with broth became commonplace. It was then that baccala was first called simply bacallata, and the recipe began to change into a more slender version, usually containing just onions and stock.
Another way to recreate the original Italian baccala soup recipe was through a variation made with sausage. Called the ‘Egg and sausage Baccala’, it is often served at Easter and used as a dipping sauce for fresh, fruit-filled pastries. Another interesting spin on this traditional Italian side dish is to use ham and Swiss cheese instead of fresh fish. The resulting ‘Bologna’ is used as a topping for pasta dishes and is sometimes served whole. The ‘Bocca’ is another way to enjoy the Italian version of the baccala.