Pietro Querini

Hero of the only known opera dedicated to dried fish

Fish drying in Norway

Sometimes a shipwreck can change culinary history. In 1431, Captain Pietro Querini was bound for Bruges when he encountered a storm, that sent him and his 68 crew members into life boats. Many died at sea but Querini and another 11 survived in a life boat against the odds, pushed into the Arctic circle by the Gulf Stream, and ended up in Røst, in Lofoten, where they were rescued by Norwegian fishing families and spent four months with them. The families, as they had done since the Vikings' day, were catching cod in the Barents Sea, which they preserved by drying it in the sun and wind to make stockfish. Querini, a patrician from one of the wealthiest families in one of the world's wealthiest cities, was utterly charmed by the simple goodness and generosity of his hosts.

When Querini eventually returned to Venice in the spring, he brought back 50 barrels of stockfish (or stoccafisso as most Italians call it, although many, like the Venetians, call it baccalà, confusing it with salt cod). Querini wrote up his report for the Senate, noting that stockfish 'is as dry as wood,' but once soaked for three days it's soft and easy to prepare. The Italians developed a taste for it, creating a market that keeps Lofoten prosperous to this day, exporting hundreds of tons of stockfish to Italy—it's popular all down the Adriatic coast, while Venice's arch-rivals, the Genoese, took to it so passionately that they even hold stoccafisso festivals. The traditional Veneto version, bacalà alla Vicentina, cooked in milk, butter, onions, anchovies and Parmesan, and served with polenta is served in restaurants across the region. It would make Querini happy to know that he contributed to the happiness of Lofoten; his report compared it with 'the first circle of paradise'

In 1932, Mussolini erected a monument on the island where Querini and his men landed, and 2012 Røst saw the premiere of Norwegian composer Henning Sommerro's lyric opera Querini, based on the story and inspired by Røst-born opera singer Hildegunn Pettersen.

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