To the best of my knowledge this delicious central Italian dish has never been served anywhere in Soho, except in my restaurant. However, all the Italian food shops either stocked baccala or could get it for you, making it the sort of dish which would have been almost impossible to make anywhere except Soho until relatively recently. The raw materials are now rather widely available, although I have suggested salting your own cod instead of buying baccala.
Rinse and slice the home-salted cod. (If you are lucky enough to find salt, cod fillets, desalinate for at least two days in as many changes of water as you can be bothered to do.) Make the tomato sauce, cook the chickpeas and blanch the spinach or chard. Combine the sauce, chickpeas, herbs and a few tablespoons of stock with a generous slug of oil in a large casserole. Put to simmer over a medium flame for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the spinach or chard, then add it to the pot.
Season the cod slices with black pepper. Put a large non-stick frying pan to heat over a high flame and cook the cod in this for 1 minute on each side, using a tiny amount of oil as a lubricant. You will almost certainly have to do this in two or more batches, unless you possess an enormous pan. Under no circumstances overcrowd the pan.
Carefully transfer the cod to the casserole, gently mix it with the other ingredients and simmer, still on a medium heat, for 5 minutes. It is important that you do not stir at this point, for if you do the fish slices will break up. Moisten the top with another big slug of oil and serve directly from the casserole at the table.
© 1999 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.