Recipe: Make our super delicious Italian salt cod

Charlotte's baccala mantecato

Charlotte's baccala mantecato - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Some dishes blow you away. Knock you head over heels. Steal your heart. This...is one of those dishes.

Recently I ate at the restaurant of former telly Hotel Inspector Ruth Watson (Watson & Watpole), eating a procession of simple, but beautifully composed plates of food - rustic Italian flavours, presented with finesse.

Forget soggy lasagne and overcooked pasta. This was the real deal. Tender pockets of tortellini filled with delicate ricotta and lemon. Pillow-like gnocchi in nettle salsa. Buttery octopus, charred and served over garlicky, oil-slicked beans. Thin slivers of seasonal vegetables tossed in a crisp semolina batter. And, best of all, tiramisu, spooned from its dish tableside.

Perhaps the most surprising hit of the lunch though was the baccala mantecato. Our waiter described it to my friends as a kind of fish paste with salt cod, anchovy and olive oil - which scarcely did it justice.

The Venetian speciality tastes of so much more than its minimal parts.

Imagine this, if you will (and no description can really do it justice) as a kind of salt cod mayonnaise, with a hint of garlic. Smeared over bread with a squeeze of burnt lemon and splash of oil, it is heavenly. Allow the mix to come to room temperature before serving so its flavours can really sing. 

PS: You don’t need to buy salt cod for this, you’ll be making your own. 

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Baccala Mantecato 

(Serves 2 as a lunch with salad, or 4 as a starter) 

Ingredients 

300g cod fillet, skin off 

500ml milk 

1 bay leaf 

1tbsp peppercorns 

Lots of sea salt 

125ml good quality olive oil (you want a nice fruity one that isn’t bitter) 

1 clove garlic, chopped 

1 anchovy 

Pinch garlic powder 

1 lemon, halved or quartered 

Crusty bread, cut into thick slices 

More olive oil to finish 

Method 

Take a very small dish or bowl that will fit your cod snugly. Layer salt on the bottom. Place the cod on top, and sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt over the top. Rub it in. Place in the fridge for one hour. 

Rinse away the salt. 

Warm the milk, bay leaf and peppercorns in a pan. Add the cod and simmer for five minutes until cooked through. Allow to cool. Use a cup to take out some of the liquid. Reserve it. Strain the cod and flake into a food processor. 

Add 4tbsps of the reserved milk, the garlic, anchovy and garlic powder and blitz to a paste. Bit by bit, add the olive oil to combine. Spoon into a container and keep in the fridge for up to two days. 

To serve, brush the lemon with oil and griddle to get a nice char on it (or pop under the grill).  

Toast two to four slices of good bread, rub with a piece of the charred lemon, drizzle with oil, and pipe or spoon over some of the salt cod mixture. Serve with the crushed lemon on the side.