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Bagna Cauda

This traditional sauce from Italy is not served over pasta. Instead, it's a hot dip for a variety of seasonal vegetables.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    Bagna Cauda requires one bulb of garlic for each person at the table. Prepping the garlic takes time.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    Cinotto smashes the garlic with the heal of his hand, shattering each clove, allowing the peel to fall off easily.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    Cinotto enjoys a glass of Barbera wine while patiently stirring the Bagna Cauda over low heat.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    After baking, the onions are sweet and tender, but still firm enough to dip into the sauce.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    After cooking for close to an hour, the anchovies and garlic begin to meld into a paste.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    Choose vegetables that are in season for your Bagna Cauda platter.

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    Photo: Kayte Young

    Keep the sauce warm at the table by placing it over a candle.

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    Photo: Carl Pearson

    How and when Bagna Cauda is enjoyed is as important as the dish itself.

Food Historian Simone Cinotto shared this traditional recipe from the Piedmont region in Northwestern Italy, where he spent his childhood.

“This food is not even a food. It is like a culture in itself, because it is more important how it is eaten and when it eaten than the food itself. It is something that is supposed to be enjoyed in the fall and in the winter, in very large groups of people.”

Traditionally you would cook the sauce on the stove in a terra cota pot, which you would bring to the table, and place on a stand over a candle, to keep it warm. Diners would have individual pots over candles as well, and would spoon some of the sauce into the small pot, and dip from there.

If you don’t have the special equipment, you can use a heavy bottomed pot to cook the sauce (an enamel lined dutch oven works well) and a fondue pot or a ceramic dish set over a tea candle for serving.

The addition of butter and cream at the end is not traditional, but has become standard when served in restaurants in Piedmont. It makes the sauce milder and softer. You can also add a handful of crushed walnuts at the end, or serve them at the table. While this is not traditional, it is a nod to the time when walnut oil was more readily available than olive oil in this region. It is also something that Cinotto’s mother always adds to her Bagna Cauda.

Bagna Cauda

Yield: Serves 5

Ingredients

  • 5 bulbs of garlic
  • 10 oz anchovies (preferably packed in salt, but olive oil is fine, too)
  • ½ cup or more, of extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup cream (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1 lb small yellow potatoes
  • 4 bell peppers (yellow, orange or red)
  • 2 yellow onions
  • a handful of crushed walnuts (optional)
  • Various vegetables such as Savoy cabbage, fennel, broccoli, asparagus, carrot- whatever is in season that you would like to use for dipping.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Rub the whole peppers and onions in olive oil, and place in a large baking pan
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, or until tender (the onions may take longer than the peppers).
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.
  5. Peel and finely chop (or slice paper-thin) the garlic.
  6. Measure the olive oil into a large, heavy pot (Terra Cotta is traditional, but a dutch oven works well). Warm the sauce over medium low heat, then add the garlic.
  7. Rinse the anchovies, if salted. If they are in olive oil, simple place them in the pot with the garlic.
  8. Heat the three ingredients slowly, and maintain a low heat, stirring and checking the sauce, to make sure it doesn’t boil or fry. Cook the sauce over low heat for 45-90 minutes, stirring and breaking up the anchovies as you go. You want the garlic and anchovies to meld into a fluid paste.
  9. Boil the small yellow potatoes until tender but not falling apart. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Carefully peel the potatoes, removing the thinnest part of the skin. Leave whole and arrange on a platter.
  10. Prepare the rest of the vegetables for dipping. Broccoli or asparagus, you may want to blanche or cook partially. Fennel and savoy cabbage, leave raw. Think of using the vegetables as scoops for the dips, and cut them to size accordingly.
  11. When the onions and peppers are done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the seeds and peels from the peppers, and cut them into strips or filets. Cut the whole onion into quarters, and separate some of the “leaves” for dipping.
  12. Arrange all vegetables on the platter, or on multiple platters or plates.
  13. After an hour or so, the garlic and anchovies should be melded together nicely. Add the butter, and stir in the cream. Warm through, and then it is ready to serve.
  14. Pour the sauce into the serving dish over a candle on the table, or into the individual Bagna Cauda pots, if you have them. Serve with the vegetables and fresh bread, if you like.
  15. Break the potatoes or slice them on your plate, and spoon the sauce over them. Do the same with the peppers. Everything else, dip directly in the sauce. Barbera is the perfect wine to pair with this dish.
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