A Lesson in Bagna Cauda

bagna cauda

One of the most unique parts about studying at an international university abroad is the knowledge received not only from worldly professors but also from classmates that come from both near and far. My class is a United Nations of sorts, with over a dozen countries represented among just twenty six people. And seeing that we are all a bit food obsessed, the most exciting knowledge obtained from one another is that of our food culture.

Before the holidays two fellow classmates from Torino organized a dinner for our class centered around one of the important traditional dishes of the Piemonte region where I am living. Bagna cauda, which translates to “hot bath,” is a warm dip made with garlic, anchovies and olive oil. Many variations exist but all are served hot, traditionally in a terra cotta pot lit with a candle to keep the dip warm, with a variety of raw and cooked vegetables for dipping.

bagna cauda dinner

Bagna cauda for twenty six

At our dinner we ate it as a main course, with each person dipping from their own terra cotta pot. The dip can also be served as an appetizer, which is how I prepared it for my family on Christmas Eve back in the States, thanks to my friend and classmate Claudia who provided her family’s recipe. And while you may not want to breath too close to anyone after indulging in bagna cauda, be careful: the stuff is addictive.

bagna-cauda

Back at home – smashed garlic and anchovies cooking in oil then blended till smooth

Bagna Cauda (adapted from Claudia Quaranta)

Serves two as a main course or many (10-12) as an appetizer. The recipe can easily be halved or doubled depending on how much you need. Leftover bagna cauda can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. It is great tossed with pasta or reheated as is.

2 heads of garlic (try to use a mild garlic like elephant if available. If it’s strong, one head is enough)
200 g (or slightly less then a 1/2 pound) of salted anchovies, prepped and cleaned (see below)
2 cups good extra virgin olive oil
2 cups + 2 Tbsp milk
10 walnuts, toasted and finely ground

How to prepare the anchovies:

First debone the anchovies by carefully peeling away the main bone and the tail starting from the back, leaving little to no meat on the bone. Discard bones and put the anchovies in bowl with a splash of red wine vinegar. Put the bowl in the sink and with water running, wash each anchovy to remove salt.  After washing, place each anchovy on a plate lined with paper towels. Pat dry with additional paper towels and let them continue to dry for 30 minutes. At this point they are ready to be used. If you’d like to do this ahead of time, place the anchovies in an airtight container, cover them with olive oil and store in the refrigerator until ready to use, no more then 4-5 days.
 

1. Peel garlic cloves and put into a medium saucepan with 500 mL milk. Bring the milk to a simmer and cook over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is soft and can be smashed with a fork.

2. Drain the garlic, place it in a bowl and smash it.

3. Place smashed garlic and prepared anchovies in a clean medium saucepan and cover with 500 mL of olive oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently. The anchovies will melt into the oil and garlic and become a thick, rough sauce. Once this has happened, turn off the heat, add remaining 2 Tbsp of fresh milk and puree until smooth using an immersion blender. Once smooth, stir in ground walnuts.

4. Serve warm with your choice of raw and cooked vegetables for dipping. Traditional vegetables include raw endive, raw celery, raw or roast peppers, boiled potatoes, raw Jerusalem artichokes, boiled cardoons, raw or boiled cabbage, steamed onions and boiled turnips.

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