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Shared by Sara Pavoncello

Baccala with Onion and Tomato 

Yield: 6 servingsTime: 1 ½ hours (Plus 2 days soaking time)

Shared by Sara Pavoncello

Baccala with tomatoes and onion, garnished with basil on a large, decorative serving platter.
Photographer: Armando Rafael. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich. Prop Stylist: Vanessa Vazquez.

Baccala with Onion and Tomato 

Yield: 6 servingsTime: 1 ½ hours (Plus 2 days soaking time)

Family Journey

Rome, Italy

Historically, the salt preservation of fish in Italy meant that people living away from the coast could enjoy saltwater fish all year long. For the Jewish community, it was an opportunity to enjoy a fish they wouldn’t otherwise have access to; if a fish was larger than the marble chopping block at the fish market in Rome, Jews couldn’t buy it, says Sara Pavoncello, a tour guide of the Roman Jewish Ghetto. While incredibly salty, they found a way to make preserved fish tasty by first soaking it to remove some of its salt and then simmering it in a flavorful tomato sauce with onions and garlic. 

You’ll need to soak the baccala before beginning this recipe. Place the dried, salted cod in a bowl of water, cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, changing the water several times, until most of the salt is rinsed away and the fish is soft and pliable. 

Read more about Sara’s family in “For Sara Pavoncello, Keeping Roman Jewish Traditions Alive Is an Honor” and try her recipes for Roman Jewish carbonara, Roman style artichokes with anchovies, and pomodori a mezzo.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 small yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 24 oz. smooth tomato puree
  • 1-2 cups water, room temperature
  • 2 lbs. baccala (dried and salted cod), soaked* (see note above)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • Basil, to garnish


  • Step 1

    When ready to use, thoroughly rinse the cod and pat dry. Remove any bones from the cod and cut into 6-8 pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced onions to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 10-12 minutes. 

  • Step 2

    Add the minced garlic and the black pepper to the pan, and stir until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and the water to the pan. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, simmer for 10-12 minutes.

  • Step 3

    Add the prepared cod to the pan, spooning the sauce over the cod to cover. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and cover. Let cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.

  • Step 4

    Serve hot, straight from the pan, topped with torn basil leaves.