Saturday, September 28, 2013

Salt Cod and Tomato Stew

The ghosts of Christmas past sometimes surface unexpectedly. Mine snuck up on me this evening as I was making salt cod stew. Its aroma triggered a reverie that carried me back to the Christmas of my eighth year and "Ma'am's" kitchen where salt cod was being prepared for the Feast of Seven Fishes. This was also the year that St. Joseph, to the great consternation of Salvatore, Ma'am's husband, missed Christmas. Salvatore, a successful and respected contractor, was by training a stone mason. He was also an unrecognized, but talented, sculptor who fashioned one of the most beautiful Nativity scenes I've ever seen. There was, however, a problem this particular Christmas and it concerned the disposition of the young and hapless widow Moriarty. Many of you, especially those raised in the comforts and conformity of suburban homes, will be confounded by the remainder of my tale, but trust me, all of this really did happen "once upon a time in America." The widow Moriarty, left with five children and no visible means of support, wanted to sell her house and move back to the home of her parents. The house was in terrible condition and sat on the market for months. She finally told her sad tale to Ma'am who, always sympathetic, sent her boys to paint and otherwise refresh the house. Ma'am also decided to share Salvatore's St.Joseph with Mrs. Moriarty. Together they dug a hole in the Moriarty's back yard and buried the two foot statue, upside down. Ma'am firmly believed that the saint's intercession would help sell the house. I never understood the upside down part of the equation, but it apparently was a deal breaker and necessary if you wanted Joseph's help. In a normal year this would have caused no problems, but the furies, determined to wreak havoc, paid a visit and brought with them an early and hard freeze. The kind that would keep Joseph in the ground until the spring thaw. Now, this business with the statue transpired without Salvatore's knowledge or consent, so his bad temper was, in retrospect, explainable. He was neither religious nor superstitious and couldn't understand how all of this happened to him and his Joseph at Christmas, a time when folks came from miles around to admire his Nativity. Bent out of shape doesn't begin to explain his unhappiness. Ma'am did a lot of special baking that year and things finally settled down after the holiday. Mrs. Moriarty sold her house and, come spring, St. Joseph was disinterred and not buried again until Salvatore and Ma'am wanted to sell their home. Here is the recipe that triggered today's reverie. It's delicious and I hope you'll give it a try.

Salt Cod and Tomato Stew...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Andy D'Amico


1 pound dried salt cod

1/2 cup to 1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup 1/4-inch-diced onions

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1/2 jalape?o, minced and seeded

2 ounces grappa or dry white wine

2 cups tomatoes, chopped, with their juice

Bouquet garni: parsley stems, thyme, marjoram, fennel fronds, and a bay leaf, tied in cheesecloth or coffee filter

1 cup 1/2-inch-diced bell pepper

1/2 cup pitted Ni?oise olives (stuffed Spanish olives may be substituted)

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed

Fruity extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Sea-salt crystals and freshly ground black pepper


1) Place dried cod in a bowl, cover with cold water, and soak for at least 48 hours, changing water every 12 hours. Remove cod from water, pat dry with paper towels, and cut into 1-inch pieces.

2) Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a nonstick saut

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