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Baccala Alla Messinese – A Traditional Sicilian Recipe

Italian Seafood Dinner

This is a great recipe from Messina which is a little city in the northeast corner of Sicily. You can be sure that this will be part of their traditional Christmas Eve dinner.

Baccala was a big part of our December dinners and we ate it many different ways. Either my Father or my Little Nonna prepared it. But it was my Little Nonna’s job to soak it because in those days Baccala was not as refined as it is today. It had to be soaked for several days and the smell permeated the house so Little Nonna would trudge down to the celler and soak it in the sink down there making sure the door was closed. Today that odor might turn people off but to us it was just a smell of Christmas coming.


  • 2 lbs salt cod (baccala)
  • 2 celery ribs – chopped
  • 2 onions – sliced
  • 3 tomatoes – large, ripe, peeled, chopped
  • 1 ½ extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 large green olives – pitted
  • 1 lb boiling potatoes – peeled, quartered
  • 2 ½ tbs bottled capers – drained
  • 2 ½ tbs pine nuts
  • 2 tsp cayenne or red pepper flakes – to taste
  • ¼ cup raisins


  1. In a large glass bowl, let the cod soak in cold water to cover, changing the water several times, for at least 24 hours.
  2. Drain the cod and check for skin and bones; removing carefully if you find any.
  3. In a large pot, cook the onions and celery in the oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, just until all are softened.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes and ½ cup of water and bring to a slow boil.
  5. Add the cod, potatoes, olives, capers, pine nuts, raisins and cayenne or red pepper flakes.
  6. Bring it again to a slow boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  7. Cook covered, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Serve with a side of pasta.

Buon Mangiati!


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