Salt cod is a decidedly old world food, with a history of over 500 years. Way back in the old days, cod was salted and air dried to preserve the nutrients, add flavor, and ensure a long shelf life. Now that we have access to all types of fancy preservatives and refrigeration, salt cod isn't nearly as popular as it once was; now it's something that we rarely, if ever, eat at all.
When deciding which recipes to share from La Cucina, my interest was piqued by this recipe for Cod with Raisins and Prunes for a few reasons. First, this sweet and savory combination of salt cod and dried fruit was once the traditional Christmas eve dinner of Perugia, the capital city of Umbria. Second, this recipe is a great way to feed a crowd: inexpensive, easy to prepare, and quite unusual. Not only was this dish holiday appropriate, but it also gave me an excuse to familiarize myself with cooking salt cod, an ingredient that I had yet to work with.
Once I tracked down these prehistoric looking fillets, I got them into plenty of fresh water to start soaking. The soaking rehydrates the the dried flesh and also washes off much of the salt used for curing. La Cucina recommends soaking for at least two days, changing the water frequently. This might take some planning, but the soaking is an integral part of working with salt cod; if you don't, your cod will be inedibly salty.
After soaking the cod, I started the sauce that is the base of the dish. It's really nothing more than a simple tomato sauce with the addition of some chopped onion and celery. Once the sauce thickens, the cod, raisins, and prunes are added, and the whole thing is simmered for 20 minutes.
The finished dish is something in between a stew and a ragu, sweet, salty and almost medieval in its flavor combination. What surprised me most was the texture of the cod, I was expecting it to flake apart during the cooking process, but the pieces held their shape and had a firm texture, much like a fillet of fresh cod. If you make this dish at home keep in mind that it is very saucy, and definitely needs some sort of starchy counterpart. Polenta or cous cous would work quite nicely.
Win La Cucina
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of La Cucina to give away this week.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 2 cups tomato puree
- 1 pound salt-dried cod, soaked for 1 to 2 days in several changes of water, drained, skinned, boned, and cut in pieces
- 1 ounce pitted prunes
- 1/2 cup raisins
Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the onion and celery until they begin to color, then add the tomato purée.
Cook until it begins to thicken, then add the cod and cook about 20 minutes; add the prunes and raisins and complete the cooking.
Add salt if necessary, and serve hot.