Baccalà is cod which has been preserved by first salting and then drying so the crusty hunks of fish must be rehydrated and desalted by soaking them in cold water for at least 24 hours with regular rinsing.
In Rome baccalà is traditionally eaten on a Friday when it will generally be served with ceci (chickpeas, which also need a good soak before cooking). The rinsing and cleaning is a bit of a fuss so many of the city’s delicatessens will sell ready-soaked fillets of baccalà on Thursdays and Friday; look out for them by the doorway, submerged in large tanks of water. The bright white fillets are often prepared either pan-fried or baked, while Rome’s takeaway shops and pizzerie will serve them battered and deep fried.
This recipe blends the tradition of baccalà with the classic pasta recipe of aglio, olio e peperoncino (oil, garlic and chili) and mixes the cod with a hefty sprinkling of pecorino romano to thicken the sauce. Romans are usually horrified by the idea of pairing fish and cheese together but this recipe is a good way to convince them that it works perfectly.
Pair the dish with a well-structured dry white wine which will stand up to the strong flavours of baccalà and pecorino. A good local choice from Lazio is the organic white Capolemole by Marco Carpineti.
For 2 people:
250g of desalted baccalà (about 1 large fillet)
180g fresh fettuccine
1 clove of garlic
1 fresh red chili
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Half a glass of white wine
2 handfuls of grated pecorino romano
Extra virgin olive oil
The first thing to do is taste the baccalà, occasionally it is not completely desalted so if this is the case rinse it in cold running water for a few minutes to remove the excess salt.
Chop the baccalà into small cubes and finely chop the parsley, chili and garlic.
Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a non-stick pan and gently fry the garlic and chilli until soft, then add the parsley and baccalà. The baccalà will lose some liquid, once this has begun to dry out add the white wine and cook for a few more minutes until the alcohol has evaporated. Make sure there is still some liquid left in the pan.
Meanwhile cook the pasta. A couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, drain, add to the frying pan and finish cooking in the sauce until al dente.
Once the pasta is cooked turn off the heat and add the pecorino, stirring all the while, to thicken the sauce. Serve immediately.