Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy . . .

"Easter" . . . "Pesah or Passover" . . . "Semana Santa" . . . depending on your roots, background, and where you are, you might be celebrating any of these.  I have Catholic and Jewish roots in my family . . . and I'm living now in the States, so there is a little bit of everything here and there.  I'm not precisely what you would call "someone religious" and I think the conflict started in my mind "ages" ago, back in my native Lima, Peru.  Just picture this:  a Catholic maternal side, a Jewish paternal side . . . and attending a Methodist school!  Any way . . . whatever it is that you believe in and are celebrating, have a nice time! :)

I know I sort of deserted my blog for the whole month of March, but it was a really hectic time at work and it was really difficult to keep up with everything going on!  Had even forgotten all about the "2010 Census" and was only able to find, fill out and mail my form yesterday!  And just to make things a tad more complicated, I've been harboring a cold for the past few days . . . ah, the joys of life! lol

Growing up, my maternal side of the family was the predominant one around this time of the year and we would celebrate "Semana Santa".  Of course, "Good Friday" or "Viernes Santo" meant having "Bacalao a la Vizcaína" which was served with steamed rice and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with spinach.  The "Bacalao" we used to buy was Norwegian salt-dried codfish and you had to soak it in water for a couple of days (keeping it in the fridge and changing the water every few times) to desalt and reconstitute the fish.  I have to admit that I only acquired the taste for this dish over the years and really learned to appreciate it when I was in my early 20s.  In fact, I would ask my mom how come we couldn't have "Bacalao a la Vizcaína" more often!  But, apparently, salt-dried codfish was only available around Holy Week.  "Bacalao" imported from Norway was, of course, the most traditional, coveted, less salty, and pricy one, but we weren't always able to afford it, so we would just buy the least costly—but equally flavorful—local salt-dried "Bacalao style" fish.

Even though I saw my maternal grandmother and my mother preparing this dish many times along the years, it's really hard for me to recall exact measures, but after chatting online with my brother Kike and exchanging thoughts, we came up with this version:

Bacalao a la Vizcaína (Basque Style Codfish)

1 lb Norwegian salt-dried codfish fillets
1 lb onions cut in thick julienne
1/2 cup of tomato paste
2 red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons of "ají panca molido" (sundried red chili paste or "Panca Pepper"—found in Latin markets)
Olive oil
1/4 cup of white wine
2 cups of water or low sodium stock
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and cut in slices
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste


Soak the salt-dried codfish for 12 to 24 hours and keep it in the refrigerator, changing the water at least three times a day, until the water doesn't taste salty anymore.  Drain the water, gently pat dry the fish and remove bones, if any.  Put aside. Heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet or pot and sauté onions until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Season with salt (not too much) and pepper to taste.  Then add tomato paste and "ají panca" and cook for another minute.  Add bell peppers and sauté until they soften a little bit.  Deglaze with white wine and let alcohol evaporate  Add 2 cups of water (or low sodium stock) and then add shredded "bacalao".  Cover skillet or pot and cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice and making sure there's enough liquid.  Also, taste and rectify seasoning.  Serve with steamed rice and boiled potatoes.  It can also be served with garbanzo beans cooked with spinach or chard.  Serves 4.