Baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci (Pan Seared Salt Cod with Chickpea Purée)

FrankLazio, secondi piatti35 Comments

Baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci

Baccalà con i ceci (salt cod stewed with chickpeas) is one of the classic cucina povera dishes of traditional Roman cookery. Although not particularly well known among tourists, it’s a typical Friday special in homes and home style trattorias catering to a more local clientele. So when I came across this upscale riff on the classic dish, dubbed baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci or Pan Seared Salt Cod with Chickpea Purée, on my last trip to Rome, I knew I had to try it. It was love at first bite.

In this elevated version of baccalà con i ceci, the baccalà is marinated with garlic and rosemary, then quickly pan seared and served over a bed of silky puréed chickpeas. It’s a wonderful way to transform a humble dish into a supremely elegant one. And although it takes some planning ahead, as both the salt cod and chickpeas need overnight pre-soaking, their actual preparation is quite easy to pull off.

And if you don’t care for salt cod, no worries. This chickpea purée marries beautifully with other kinds of seafood—more or less any fresh fish fillet you might fancy, or mollusks like octopus, cuttlefish or squid. And if you happen to be enjoying summer right now south of the Equator, you can grill your seafood instead of pan searing it.

While I had this dish for Easter dinner (I know, heresy!) it would make for a lovely main course for a traditional Italian fish-based Christmas Eve dinner.

Ingredients

Serves 4

For the baccalà:

  • 500g (1 lb) salt cod fillets
  • Olive oil
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed

For the chickpea purée:

  • 250 g (8 oz) dried chickpeas
  • A spring of fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 100 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper

To finish the dish (optional):

  • olive oil
  • a few sprigs of finely minced parsley

Directions

The night before you plan to cook, rinse the salt cod of its excess salt and put it in a large bowl with enough water to cover completely. Place in the fridge and let soak overnight, or as long as indicated on the package, changing the water 2 or 3 times.

Place the chickpeas in another large bowl with enough water to cover them by several centimeters/inches. Let them soak overnight as well.

Preparing the chickpea purée

Drain the chickpeas, then transfer them to a large pot together with the rosemary and garlic and a good pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover them by several cetemeters/inches. Simmer until very tender, adding water as needed to ensure they are always complete covered (Cooking times for chickpeas vary enormously but about 60-90 minutes normally does the trick if you pre-soak them.) Or you can pressure cook your pre-soaked chickpeas for 30 minutes under high (12psi) pressure.

Transfer the chickpeas to a blender along with the garlic and a few rosemary leaves. Add a ladleful of the cooking water and blend at high. As you are blending, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a perfectly smooth and velvety purée. Add more cooking liquid if the purée is too thick for your taste. Keep warm until needed.

Pan searing the salt cod

Drain the salt cod well and pat dry. Cut into serving pieces. Pick off any bits of skin or bone you may find.

Place the cod fish fillets in a sealable container or plastic bag with the rosemary and garlic nestled among them. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well. Seal and let the cod marinate for about 2 hours, or until needed.

Remove the cod fillets and pick off any stray bits of rosemary or garlic, leaving a nice coating of oil.

Sear the cod fillets in a skillet over a lively heat, about 3-5 minutes per side depending on thickness, until cooked through and golden brown.

Assembling the dish

Slather a ‘bed’ of the chickpea purée on each dish. Arrange your seared cod fillet over the purée and drizzle with a spoonful of the pan juices or a drizzle of your best quality olive oil. Sprinkle with minced parsley for color if desired.

Serve immediately.

Baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci

Notes

Preparing the salt cod

Here in the US, salt cod is often sold in 1 pound (500g) boxes, containing a single piece of cod cut into large sections. The piece has a thick middle that will yield two decent sized fillets, about 100-125g (3-1/2 to 4 oz) each. So basically you can only use about half of the box, unfortunately. The rest is a bit too thin for this dish, in my opinion. I use those extra pieces for other uses: frying in batter as filetti di baccalà or puréeing to make baccalà mantecato or brandade or for dishes like baccalà lesso. That also makes this dish extra expensive since for 6 people you’ll need to buy at least three boxes which, where I live, will cost you about $20 a box. So unless your pockets are extra deep, this is definitely a special occasion dish.

Soaking times for salt cod can vary enormously depending on how heavily they’ve been salted and how long they’ve been cured. I’ve seen everything from 8 hours to 24+. An overnight soak will usually do the trick, but it’s usually best to just check the instructions on the package. When in doubt, test it: well soaked salt cod should be only slightly salty and the flesh firm but springy. If you live in Italy, or near an Italian neighborhood abroad, you may be able to pre-soaked baccalà, especially this time of year. It’s a real lifesaver!

Personally I use a non-stick skillet to sear fish. You could also use a well-seasoned cast iron or carbon steel skillet, or a stove top grill pan, which in each case should be very hot before you add the cod. And as mentioned at the top baccalà grills up beautifully.

Preparing the chickpeas

I grew up with the idea that you should salt beans only towards the end of cooking, or otherwise their skins would toughen. It seems that this bit of wisdom has been debunked. And in this case, since you’ll be puréeing your chickpeas the debate is a bit academic. (And because these days chickpeas are often sold pre-skinned which is a blessing.)

Cooking times for chickpeas can also vary a lot, depending on their type and size and how old they are. You will see instructions for cooking as little as 30 minutes and as long as two hours (!) Again, checking the instructions on the package is best. And I think an overnight soak is always a good idea, too. I don’t always soak other beans, but chickpeas really need it.

You can make the purée as thick or as thin as you like, within reason. The baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci I enjoyed in Rome had a purée that was quite thick, almost a paste, smeared across the plate. Personally, a looser, creamier texture, something like soft mashed potatoes or (for those Americans out there) grits is more to my liking. You can also use less olive oil if you like, just a few spoonfuls if you’re feeling austere. Here again I personally like lots of oil. It lends a wonderfully velvety texture and rich flavor.

As regular readers know, I’m not against cooking with pre-cooked canned beans. It’s a great time saver. And for many dishes where you’re simmering the beans in sauce, the difference is hardly noticeable. But for this dish, where the chickpeas are puréed practically “naked”, I recommend using dried chickpeas you soak and cook yourself for best flavor. That said, if you do want to use canned chickpeas, see tips below.

Variations

You don’t care for baccalà? As mentioned at the top of this post, this same chickpea purée makes a lovely bed for all sorts of other seafood—seared fresh fish fillets, pan seared octopus, cuttlefish or squid. All of these get seared or griddled in the same way. The octopus and cuttlefish need to be pre-boiled until tender.

You can make the chickpea purée a bit differently as well. You sauté the garlic and rosemary gently in olive oil, then add the boiled chickpeas. Let them sauté for a few minutes, then add enough of their boiling liquid to cover. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, then blend until you have a purée. This method is especially apt if you’re using canned chickpeas. Instead of adding their boiling liquid (of which you will have none) add salted water or broth.

Another appealing variation is to serve a leafy green like escarole or chicory, sautéed in garlic and olive oil, between the chickpea purée and the salt cod.

Making Ahead

You can make baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci ahead up until the point that you sear the fillets, which you should really do at the last moment. But the purée can be made entirely ahead and either plated at room temperature or gently reheated. The cod fillets can be marinated well ahead as well, of course.

Leftovers

And if you have any leftover chickpea purée, don’t throw it out! If you’ve made it rather thick, you can use it as you would hummus as a dip or as a topping for bruschetta. or thin it out with some water or broth for a delicious vellutata di ceci aka chickpea soup. You can also use any leftover salt cod to make baccalà mantecato.

Baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci

Pan Roasted Salt Cod with Chickpea Purée
Total Time30 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Lazio
Keyword: bean, fish, seafood, vegetable

Ingredients

For the baccalà

  • 500g 1 lb salt cod fillets
  • Olive oil
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 2 garlic cloves peeled and slightly crushed

For the chickpea purée

  • 250g 8 oz 250 g (8 oz) dried chickpeas
  • A spring of fresh rosemary
  • 2 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 100ml 1/2 cup olive oil, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper

To finish the dish

  • finely minced parsley
  • olive oil

Instructions

  • The night before you plan to cook, rinse the salt cod of its excess salt and put it in a large bowl with enough water to cover completely. Place in the fridge and let soak overnight, or as long as indicated on the package, changing the water 2 or 3 times.
  • Place the chickpeas in another large bowl with enough water to cover them by several centimeters/inches. Let them soak overnight as well.

Preparing the chickpea purée

  • Drain the chickpeas, then transfer them to a large pot together with the rosemary and garlic and a good pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover them by several cetemeters/inches. Simmer until very tender, adding water as needed to ensure they are always complete covered.
  • Transfer the chickpeas to a blender along with the garlic and a few rosemary leaves. Add a ladleful of the cooking water and blend at high. As you are blending, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a perfectly smooth and velvety purée.
    Add more cooking liquid if the purée is too thick for your taste. Keep warm until needed.

Marinating and Pan Searing the Salt Cod

  • Drain the salt cod well and pat dry. Cut into serving pieces. Pick off any bits of skin or bone you may find.
  • Place the cod fish fillets in a sealable container or plastic bag with the rosemary and garlic nestled among them. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well. Seal and let the cod marinate for about 2 hours, or until needed.
  • Remove the cod fillets and pick off any stray bits of rosemary or garlic, leaving a nice coating of oil.
  • Sear the cod fillets in a skillet over a lively heat, about 3-5 minutes per side depending on thickness, until cooked through and golden brown.

Finishing the Dish

  • Slather a 'bed' of the chickpea purée on each dish. Arrange your seared cod fillet over the purée and drizzle with a spoonful of the pan juices or a drizzle of your best quality olive oil. Sprinkle with minced parsley for color if desired.
  • Serve immediately

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35 Comments on “Baccalà alla piastra su purè di ceci (Pan Seared Salt Cod with Chickpea Purée)”

  1. I will definitely try this. A question. Is baccalà less salty now? I recall the soaking rituals from childhood. The times I made baccalà in the last few years have little or no salt after an overnight soak.

  2. Thanks Frank, yet again. Cooked it last night, Xmas Eve here in Oz. Was a bit dubious, normally I cook Bacalao with stronger ingredients, Vizcaya etc, but the chickpeas really worked though sadly my lomo wasn’t as succulent looking as yours.
    Very best Frank and Merry Xmas

  3. This sounds absolutely divine! I’m always on the lookout for unique and flavorful seafood dishes, and this upscale take on baccalà con i ceci has me intrigued. Pan-seared salt cod with creamy chickpea purée? Sign me up!

  4. This reminds me of one of your other recipes, fava bean purè with bitter greens 🙂 I really like that one, so this chickpea purè sounds very appealing to me.

    1. It does share some characteristics, yes. Very much so if you add some sautéed escarole to the mix, as mentioned in the notes. Anyway, glad you like the recipe and do hope you give it go.

  5. this looks absolutely delicious Frank. Just my kind of food. I love fish and i love chickpeas. Yum!

  6. Pairing baccala with ceci( aka chick peas or garbanzo beans) is a very common combination that is served in the region of Lucca , Toscana.

  7. Now THIS recipe might actually get me to eat baccala! 😊 Love the combination with chickpeas….and might have to give it a go with fresh cod as well.

    1. Ha! I hope it does. I’m a baccalà lover but I do know lots of folks (including my own Dad) who don’t care for it. That said, I served some of the leftover chickpea purée with fresh cod just last night, and it was really delicious.

  8. A very stylish way of treating salt cod. It has taken me a long time to befriend that version of yhe fish but shall try this time around . . . no problem buying it here . . . and, if I still somewhat twitch my nose, there are the other suggestions 🙂 !!!

    1. Well, if you’re not a fan of salt cod, as you say, you can always opt for fresh cod or basically any other fish. That chickpea purée is gold. 🙂

  9. Believe it or not, good salt cod is very difficult to find here in Tucson. It’s available, but I emphasize the word “good.“ So, thank you for suggesting that other fish are acceptable. Mark and I plan to make this using black cod, which I know will be perfect. He also sat on the sofa, reading me all the other recipes you have posted for seafood at Christmastime. To make as many of the recipes as we want to, we will need to have a five-day Christmas. It’s a good thing we are retired.

    1. Other fish are definitely acceptable, David. I served this with fresh cod last night and it was a big hit. Pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself! And yes, retirement definitely has its advantages!

      1. This dish is absolutely superb! I know it is cucina povera but it felt so special to us both. I did use fresh black cod, which worked beautifully. Also, I think that a touch a parsley is really important – it ads a nice layer of flavor.

  10. I enjoy eating bacala during the year and am very fortythst our local Portuguese Hall occasionally serves it- stewed with potatoes.
    My mom used to make it for Christmas Eve marinated with lots of garlic, parsley and olive oil and a few little red chillies- delicious
    During the year we, at home cook it with leeks and tomato sauce and serve it with polenta

  11. I’ve only used salt cod once for a Spanish recipe so I’m excited to try this recipe. This disH is guest worthy and I will definitely bookmark it for our next dinner party.
    I was under the impression that soaking beans is partly for cooking but that it also helps break them down to make them easier to digest, so I try to soak most of the dry beans I cook.

    1. Hope you like it, Eva. Yes, they say that soaking does make beans more digestible and avoid flatulence, but since I have no issues with beans in that way, more often than not I don’t bother these days. That said, if I have the foresight I do to cut down on cooking times.

  12. This is fabulous – I’m sure you know how much I love bacalao. I will pass this on to my step mother, who cooks for 12 nuns on a monthly basis. I believe two of them are Italian, some I’m sure they’ll enjoy it!

  13. A very interesting recipe; thanks. How about using a polenta made with chick pea flour?

    1. Hmmm…. I’d have to try it to say. I’ve used chickpea flour for making farinata and panelle and other solid preparations, but never soft in this way.

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