Baccala con Ceci Belcapo

Sígnor Belcapo’s Olive-harvest Salt Cod and Chickpeas

This dish is served to all the temporary workers at the end of the olive harvest some time in November. I’ve never been at La Cacciata at this time, but I understand it is much harder work than the grape harvest, and the weather tends to be much more inclement. Clara Belcapo showed me how to make the dish last summer, and the only alterations I’ve permitted myself are to add a little broth and substitute home-salted cod for the rather overpowering stockfish authentically used. You must try and find good-quality chickpeas; the Spanish brands are by far the best. Large old chickpeas are useless, the fresher the better.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg Home-salted Cod, cut into 250 g steaks
  • 500 g chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1 chilli pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 recipe Gremolata
  • 500 ml Chicken Broth
  • black pepper
  • top-quality olive oil (ideally the brand-new oil in November/December to go with the new season’s chickpeas)

Method

Put the salt cod to desalinate in a tray in the sink under a gently running tap. Drain the chickpeas, rinse thoroughly, then drain again and put in a largish pan. Add double their volume of water, and bring to the boil over a high heat. They will throw a considerable scum which, if allowed to boil back into the cooking liquid, will heighten the chickpeas’ already flatulent reputation. Skim this off, and turn the heat to low so the peas are simmering. Split the chilli lengthways and add with the whole unpeeled garlic cloves and the bay leaves to the chickpeas. Simmer until very tender (al dente chickpeas are not a good idea: I once served them in this dish to A.A. Gill, the Sunday Times’ restaurant critic, he wasn’t impressed), and leave to cool in their liquor. You may need to skim from time to time during cooking. The peas may take as little as an hour but will more likely be nearer 2 hours.

To serve, prepare the gremolata, then drain the cod and pat dry. Heat the chicken broth, then add an equal amount of the pea liquor. Heat 8 heaped serving spoons of peas in this liquor. Warm the soup plates in a low oven.

The cod is quickly cooked in a non-stick frying pan. If you haven’t got one big enough to hold the fish comfortably, you will need to do it in two batches. Season the cod copiously with coarsely grated black pepper but no salt. Over a high heat fry the cod, skin side down, in a little oil for 5 minutes. Carefully turn and cook for 3 minutes on the other side. While the cod is cooking, ladle the peas and broth into warm soup plates then put the cooked cod on top. Scatter with gremolata and finally lots and lots of the olive oil.

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