Merluzzo in Umido (Cod in Light Tomato Sauce)

January 4, 2017

The first time I had Merluzzo in Umido was November 1992.  My husband and I took my mother, his mother, and his fraternal grandmother to Santa Fe for a week over Thanksgiving.  At the time, we were living in Chicago.  We rented an ancient adobe house off Garcia Street.  The house didn’t have any central heat though it did have a frightening array of heating devices that included a kiva fireplace, a direct-vent gas heater in the living room, a portable electric heater in one of the bedrooms, wall-mounted electric radiant heaters in the bathrooms, and nothing in the kitchen.  If the oven wasn’t on, the kitchen was the coldest room in the house as it had three outside walls and a door that didn’t seal very well.

Of course, it was reported to be the coldest winter that Santa Fe had experienced in 100 years! In addition to cold, there was lots of snow. And there we were, in a drafty old adobe house with no central heat enjoying a week with the likes of The Golden Girls!

We had a blast.

We had been house hunting in Santa Fe since April of that year.  On that November trip we saw several houses we liked.  We spent a few evenings rating each of the houses on an array of factors using a spreadsheet.  (In my professional life, we would have called this a prioritization matrix or selection grid. It’s a technique I’ve taught to hundreds of health care professionals over several decades.)  One afternoon we all piled into the car to look at the two finalists in the property hunt.  We were uncertain which one to buy.  Not so the women.  A little house on Griffin Street was the undisputed, hands-down favorite.  Deal done!

We put in an offer and closed in January.  For most of December my mother kept saying that she wanted to go back to Santa Fe and stay in the house in the spring.  We did a bit of remodeling and moved into the house in March.  Unfortunately, my mother died in January, shortly before we closed on the house.  She never got to experience her dream of returning to Santa Fe.  We had that house for more than nine years before we moved into a much larger Santa Fe property in Ricardo-Legorreta-designed Zocalo.  After Zocalo, we built and moved into Villa Sentieri overlooking the city.

I frequently think of that trip.  It was memorable in so many ways.  We found our first house in Santa Fe.  I got to spend quality time with my mother in the last weeks of her life.  My husband and I had interviews to get our medical licenses in New Mexico.  (It’s the only time either of us has been personally interviewed for a medical license!).   And, I learned how to make Merluzzo in Umido, one of many recipes that my husband’s grandmother brought with her from Italy.

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Merluzzo in Umido (Cod in Light Tomato Sauce)
If possible, by large filets of cod and portion them at home. Three pounds is enough for eight people. The advantage of portioning the fish at home is that you can make some smaller pieces for individuals with smaller appetites. Cod is a perfect fish for this dish because it is forgiving in terms of being overcooked. However, any firm, white, non-oily fish will taste great. I used a 15-inch rondeau to cook the cod. It held the fish in a single layer. If you don’t have a pan large enough to hold the fish in one layer, make the sauce in a single sauté pan then divide it among two different pans to cook the fish.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Cut the cod into 8 to 10 serving pieces. Though you can cook whole filets, it will be easier to get the fish out of the pan if cut into portions.
  2. In rondeau large enough to hold the fish in one layer, sauté the onion and a sprinkling of salt in the olive oil until transparent and slightly golden but not brown.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add parsley and some freshly ground black pepper. Sauté for a minute or two. The smell of parsley should become noticeably more potent. Do not brown the ingredients of the pan.
  5. Add the wine and cook briskly until the wine evaporates.
  6. Add the tomato paste. Sauté, stirring frequently, until it gets ever so slightly darker and begins to smell sweet. This will take 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add the water, oregano, basil and additional salt and pepper to taste. Boil gently, with the cover slightly askew for 20-30 minutes. The sauce will thicken. If it becomes too thick, add a little additional water. However, the juices from the fish will thin the sauce so it is better for the sauce to start out too thick rather than two thin. The sauce can be made ahead to this point.
  8. With the sauce at a medium boil, add the fish, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot tightly and cook for approximately 20 minutes until the fish cooks through an flakes easily. The length of time will depend on the type of fish, thickness of the portions, and elevation. Do not turn the fish but occasionally spoon some of the sauce over the top of the cooking fish.
  9. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning. If the sauce it too thick thin with a little water. If it is too thin, boil it briskly after removing the fish.
  10. Put the fish on a deep serving platter. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.
Recipe Notes

Parsley stems can be bitter.  When adding parsley to a recipe, I only use the leaves and very tender stems.  To do this, I hold the end of the parsley stem in one hand and slide the stem between the thumb and finger of the other hand.  When my fingers reach the leaves, I pinch off the stem and discard it.  This makes quick work of the parsley and removes any chance of bitterness from the stems.

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8 thoughts on “Merluzzo in Umido (Cod in Light Tomato Sauce)”

  1. Gary: Beautiful recipe. I will try it soon as Whole Foods in
    Palm Desert has a sensational seafood department; I plan to
    use a bottled light weight tomato sauce WF also sells in place
    of the tomato paste and added water of your recipe; just a
    hunch on my part. Did you know that WF operates its own
    fishing fleet out of Seattle? No wonder their fresh seafood is
    so good!
    Your March party for Franco looks splendid. Put us down as
    ‘can’t wait!’ BTW, I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you have
    the huge French cookbook originally from about 1932 by
    Ginette Mathiot, “the French Bible of cooking?”
    It has (2009) been translated into English (975 pages), and
    is a delight just to read as if a novel. If you don’t have it, I have
    a copy for you. You’ll enjoy it. Let me know.

    1. Hi Jim, Thanks for the feedback. Try it with the sauce as well as the tomato paste. The tomato paste has a rich flavor as it is cooked longer than bottled tomato sauce. Let me know which you prefer. I do not have the cookbook you mentioned. See you soon!

  2. Noni frequently spoke of that trip and how much fun she had. I never wrote down the recipe, so thank you for sharing.

  3. Oh Gary
    I LOVE everything about your post-such a wonderful story
    I plan on making this dish this evening will substitute another white fish probably snapper as Pat and I are in FL
    Will photo and send
    Can’t wait
    Much love to ALL
    MT

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