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Bucatini with Salt Cod Tomato Sauce


  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds center-cut skinless boneless salt cod (baccalà), rinsed well
  • 1 pound dried bucatini (preferred) or linguine
  • 2 tablespoons salt-packed capers
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 – 4 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes depending on preferred degree of hotness. I used 3 (H loves it hot) which was pretty spicy. I think 4 1/2 would likely be too much unless you really like it hot.
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice
  • 1 1/2 cups Spanish Olives stuffed with pimentos
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped


In large bowl, combine cod with water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and refrigerate, changing water 2 – 3 times a day, 1 to 3 days (I find it takes the full 3 days with any salt cod I have purchased).

In a small bowl, combine capers with water to cover by 1 inch. Cover and refrigerate 1 day, changing water 3 times (I rinsed and soaked for about an hour, which was fine, but the overnight procedure will reduce the salt content and between the salt cod, capers and olives, there is the potential for a lot of salt in the recipe).

Drain and rinse capers, then squeeze dry and set aside. Drain cod then add to a medium size pot with water to cover plus one inch. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cod, cool enough to handle, then flake the cod and set aside.

In heavy 6- to 8-quart pot over moderate heat, heat 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add onion and sauté until softened and golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, capers, tomatoes and juice. Using a wooden spoon, gently crush the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then add flaked cod and olives. Add parsley. Simmer, uncovered, until cod is tender and heated through, about 10 – 15 minutes minutes.

While sauce is simmering, in a large pot, bring salted (a tablespoon or two) water to boil for the pasta. Cook a little short of the classic el dente stage. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water for thinning the sauce. Drain. Add the pasta to the simmering sauce, mixing pasta with the sauce, and cook until el dente is reached, 2-3 minutes. Add reserved pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. It should not be runny, but luxuriously creamy, clinging to the pasta and other ingredients.

Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl or to individual bowls/plates for serving. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side for those who can’t imagine pasta without cheese. Personally, I don’t think it needs it.

A note on Salt Cod: Salt cod was a staple of long sea voyages back when ships were powered by wind. It lasted well for long periods of time. It must be soaked for at least 24 hours, with several changes of water, to several days, with once twice or thrice daily changes of water. The goal is a pleasantly, not overwhelmingly, salty taste. How long it needs to be soaked depends on the particular piece of cod at hand. Taste a little piece after the first day and each subsequent day until desired saltiness is reached. I find it is usually two to three days.

This recipe is based on an recipe, and is very much like this recipe which I found after making this dish.

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