Fresh vegetables are dipped in this Piedmontese-style comfort food that's served in a small fondue-style pot over a candle or burner. It literally translates as "hot bath."
This hot dipping sauce of aromatic braised garlic mellowed with olive oil, anchovy, and cream traditionally accompanies red and yellow peppers, cardoon, celery, chicory, and Belgian endive. Eaten as a first course or one-dish communal supper, the last remnants of Bagna Cauda are often used to gently fry an egg that, in turn, becomes a new dip for chunks of country bread.
Another great way to use this is as a sauce for a pound of pasta, tossing it, too, with cut-up raw vegetables.
Cook to Cook: The dip can be made several hours ahead and warmed just before serving. Be sure to serve warm, not hot. Pour a red Ghemme from the Piedmont and continue the wine to the next course, which could be grilled meat or poultry with herbs.
- 1 cup fruity, good-tasting, extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 large garlic cloves, thickly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 of a 2-ounce tin of anchovies, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Generous amount of fresh ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
Vegetables for Dipping:
- 2 each sweet red and yellow peppers, cut in 2-inch wedges
- 4 stalks cardoon, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces and soaked in lemon water (or substitute celery which requires no soaking)
- 1 to 2 heads Belgian endive
- 1 bulb fennel, cut in wedges
1. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the olive oil and garlic and set over very low heat. Slowly stew garlic about 20 to 30 minutes or until it's barely colored, falling apart and very mellow. The garlic's sting will disappear in cooking. Stir in anchovies and cook another few minutes. At this point the sauce could be put aside for several hours until ready to serve.
2. Arrange the raw vegetables on platters in center of table. Reheat Bagna Cauda to a bubble and stir in butter. Simmer a few moments. Turn into a small ceramic pot that can sit over a candle or Sterno. Mixture should be bubbly as it goes to the table. Invite everyone to dip vegetables as desired. Have crusty bread for swabbing up the last bits.
Variations: In the last century some Piemontese cooks used 1/2 cup toasted and ground hazelnuts in addition to garlic and substituted hazelnut oil for the olive oil. It is delicious. Also, some cooks prefer to lightly grill peppers rather than serving them raw.