Salt cod is a winter dish in Cancale, and traditional recipes generally involve potatoes, plus lots of butter and cream. This Italian-inspired dish takes it out of that cold-weather context. If you don’t happen to have salt cod available at every nearby supermarket the way I do in Cancale, you could also make it with any other fish fillet – no soaking or pre-cooking required.
1 lb. (500 g.) salt cod
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small head fennel, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup (50 ml.) white wine, optional
2 medium beefsteak or oxheart tomatoes, coarsely chopped
4 waxy (Yukon gold or red) potatoes, quartered and sliced
1 large sprig fresh thyme
¼ cup pitted black olives, halved
parsley, for garnish/color (totally optional)
Rinse any salt off the salt cod, and place in a large bowl or lidded container. Cover with 2 inches of cold water. Soak in the refrigerator 24 to 48 hours, changing the water at least 3 to 4 times (whenever you think of it.)
Drain the salt cod, transfer it to a large saucepan, and cover once more with cold water. Put the lid on the pan, and bring the water just to a bare simmer—a white foam will have begun to form on the surface of the water. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and let the cod poach in the hot water 10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425˚F/210˚C.
Meanwhile, make the tomato base: Heat the olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until the fennel is tender. Add the garlic, and sauté 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the white wine, if using, and simmer 2 to 3 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, and thyme, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until the tomatoes are softened but not totally cooked. Stir in the olives, then season lightly with salt and pepper (the salt cod will lend some saltiness to the base).
Break the salt cod into large pieces and set on top of the tomato mixture. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cod is firm and beginning to brown. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve in bowls with plenty of fresh bread. Serves 3 or 4