Christmas this year for us all will be very much curtailed and although we will cherish every moment we get to spend with our friends and family more than ever we will all be thinking of our lost loved ones.

This dish is traditionally served on Christmas Eve all over Italy. My mother-in-law, Olivia Contini, always made it and brought it along for lunch to the shop, Valvona & Crolla, on our busiest day of the year.

If you don’t like or can’t get a hold of salt cod, the dish is delicious with fresh cod, hake or even halibut.


300- 400 g baccalà (salt cod) or fresh cod, or firm flesh white fish

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic peeled but left whole.

1 piece pepperoncino (dried chilli)

80 ml dry white wine

2 fresh bay leaves

4-5 tinned plum tomatoes and a little juice

8 pitted prunes (semi-dried ones are juicier)

A good handful of flat-leaf parsley


If you are using dried baccalà you will need to prepare 2 days ahead.

Cover the cod with cold water and soak for 2 days, changing the water several times.

The fish will reconstitute and start to look more familiar.

When ready to cook it, use your fingers to remove as many of the bones as you can and cut it into 5-6 pieces.

If using fresh cod or firm white fish use your fingers to remove any bones.

Salt the fresh cod by rubbing it with sea salt and leaving it in the fridge covered for half an hour.

This flavours the fish and helps firm the flesh.

Rinse the fish and cut it into 5-6 pieces leaving the skin intact to stop the fish disintegrating as it cooks.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan and gently sauté the onion, garlic, and chilli.

Add the white wine and raise the heat to cook off the alcohol.

Add the fresh bay leaves and sauté with the lid on the pot until the onion is soft and translucent.

Lower the heat, add the tomatoes, squashing them down with the back of a spoon. Gently cook for about 20 minutes to make a light fresh tomato sugo.

Lay the cod pieces on top of the sugo, add the prunes and, with the saucepan lid on and the heat lowered, steam the fish until its flesh has just cooked and become opaque.

This takes barely 10-15 minutes. Add a splash of hot water if needed.

Taste at the end of cooking, it should not need any salt.

Serve scattered with plenty of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.