The season of light is upon us! Christmas in Italy is a religious feast day with much preparation underway in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Like most other feast days of note in Italy, Natale (Christmas) is as much about the cuisine as anything else. The food is everything!
The endless courses prepared for this feast in Italian households frequently vary as to their preferences and the region of Italy of their parentage. One dish, prepared in many homes, is CODFISH BALLS. There are all kinds of recipes for these, but one of them is a mixture of cooked potatoes and flaked cod – a very easy mixture to achieve. The mixture is formed into balls and served with sauce. This is the preparation used here.
Growing up in an Italian home, the days and weeks before Christmas were almost as exciting as the day itself. The sights, smells, and tastings coming from the kitchen were tantalizing reminders of what was to come. For a child, the excitement was almost overwhelming. As I grew, I became familiar with the repetition of the same dishes, pastries, candies, and more that appeared from year to year. I never tired of the ritual or of the endless parade of special foods that were associated with this holiday. I welcomed and anticipated their arrival.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, served on Christmas Eve in most of Southern Italy, has become well known even among non-Italians. When I was a young girl, this special meatless meal was dictated as much by religion as custom. In those days, Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence for Catholics, meaning—no meat. Often, the bishop would give a last minute dispensation for meat to be served. However, this dispensation was not observed or accepted in the “Calabrisi” house! It was fish and seafood all the way and, like most Italians, we loved it.
In almost all Italian homes, it is safe to say that some form of codfish is always served at this feast of fishes. Sometimes the cod is served several different ways. CODFISH BALLS (or Codfish Cakes) is an easy choice for one of the fish menu selections. Some like to use the salt cod (baccala) which is more traditional. Others use fresh cod. Either is fine.
Let’s go fishing!
Makes: 15-20 balls
Prep: 60 minutes (plus soaking time if using salt cod)
Cook: 20 minutes
1 lb salt cod
1 lb fresh cod
3 Medium Potatoes – skinned, boiled and mashed
2 Tbsp. Butter softened
1/2 Onion chopped finely
1/4 c. Chopped Fresh Parsley
1/4 c. Capers, rinsed and drained
Kosher Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg beaten
Dry breadcrumbs (can be seasoned or not)
Marinara Sauce – Recipe Below
If using salt cod – rinse and soak fish in cold water for a day or two – changing the water several times. When finished, boil the cod about 15 minutes. Cool and flake the fish with a fork.
If using fresh cod – cook first. Baking it is probably a good method – 400 degrees until it is cooked through and flakes easily. Cool it and flake with a fork.
Add butter to the mashed potatoes and mix.
Mix together: cod, mashed potatoes, onion, parsley, capers, salt and pepper.
Add the beaten egg.
Mix together and form balls. Some people like to form cakes instead of balls. It’s up to you.
Roll the balls in the dry breadcrumbs.
Fry in oil at about 380 degrees, turning so that they become evenly golden.
Drain the balls on paper towels.
Serve with Marinara Sauce – in the sauce or with sauce on the side..
Makes enough sauce for about a pound of pasta. Double the sauce recipe if you like more sauce.
1 Large (28 oz) Can San Marzano Tomatoes – crushed with fingers or with a couple of turns in blender or processor
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
3 Cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Basil
Saute garlic in olive oil for about a minute. Do not let the heat get too high and burn the garlic!
Add the tomatoes to the pan.
Add the salt and pepper to taste.
Add the chopped fresh basil.
Bring to a bubble and simmer steadily at medium heat about 20 minutes or until much of the water is cooked off leaving a thick concentrated tomato sauce.
Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Enjoy your CODFISH BALLS in the sauce or on the side – with or without pasta! Let the feasting begin!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography
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