This recipe is based on one of my favourite Venetian dishes, baccala' mantecato. Baccala' is salted cod and usually comes from Norway and is a staple of the Venetian aperitivo, as well as countless dishes from all over Italy. Soaked overnight, then boiled with a garlic clove, the baccala' is then whipped into a creamy paste with a steady stream of olive oil, much like a mayonnaise. It's spread onto crostini or grilled polenta (crispy golden brown outside, creamy inside) and goes down very well with an Aperol spritz, particularly when sitting in a Venetian bacaro!
It's not traditional to use mackerel but it is delicious, with a creamier and somewhat meatier taste. Tinned mackerel (known as "filetti di sgombro" in Italian) is easy to get (find them in Italian delis), cheap and quick to prepare. In fact, this recipe can literally be whipped up in a matter of minutes.
"Mantecato" means "creamed" in Italian and is a hint at how this dish is both prepared and how it looks. —Emiko
Place water in saucepan and bring to the boil, whisk in the polenta and stir regularly until the polenta becomes thick and even difficult to stir. It should become very soft so that when you taste it, you can no longer feel the grains between your teeth.
Pour out onto a baking tray, smooth out the surface and let the polenta cool in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours, better if overnight.
When cooled and set, slice the polenta into rectangular servings (you can also use a cookie cutter to make rounds) and grill or fry them until crisp and golden.
For the mackerel mantecato, place the mackerel in a food processor with the lemon juice, blitz and add the olive oil a little at a time to get a creamy paste. Adjust for taste (maybe a little more lemon, definitely add some sea salt and plenty of pepper). This can also be done simply with a fork, in a whisking motion, for a more rustic topping.
When the polenta is grilled, top with a heaped spoonful of the mackerel mantecato and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.