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Default Bagna Cauda ("Hot Bath") - A Garlic and Anchovy Sauce

Bagna Cauda ("Hot Bath") - A Garlic and Anchovy Sauce

Bagna Cauda, which literally translates as "hot bath", is a unique specialty of
the Piedmont region often eaten with white truffles. According to Matt Kramer in
A Passion for Piedmont, bagna cauda is a sauce originally used as a snack by
peasants pruning the vines in midwinter. They would make a fire and heat the
bagna to warm up. They dipped whatever was on hand: grissini (breadsticks) and
fresh, late, seasonal vegetables, mostly root crops like carrots and onions or
hardy crops like celery and fennel.

Kramer explains how food historians were puzzled by the use of olive oil and
anchovies in such a poor peoples dish, as neither is produced locally. The answer
for olive oil lies in the frequent and ancient trade exchanging wines from
Piedmont with oil from nearby Liguria. The taste for anchovies, however, derives
from the culinary preference of the several Jews that settled in Piedmont after
their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Furthermore, anchovies traveled well, packed
as they were in salt, so together with the abundant local garlic and Ligurian
olive oil, bagna cauda was born.

Traditionally, bagna cauda was served in a large, common ceramic bowl placed in
the middle of the table over a candle warmer. If you eat bagna cauda in a
restaurant you'll more likely have individual bowls and a serving platter of
vegetables from which to choose.

The recipe will provide about a cup and a half of sauce, enough for a small
appetizer for four. You will be surprised to discover how mild and subtle the
taste of this apparently "explosive" dish is!

large head of garlic (with 10-12 cloves)
1 tablespoon heavy cream or butter.
5 salty anchovy fillets
1/2 cup or so of olive oil
vegetables: celery, carrots, cabbage, endive, cooked red beets

Thoroughly peel a large head of garlic (with 10-12 cloves) and cook with enough
milk to cover all the cloves for 20 to 30 minutes or until you can mash the
garlic with a fork and make a consistent paste. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream
or butter. Rinse five salty anchovy fillets and add them to the mix, cooking
them slowly for 4-5 minutes. Stir the mixture gently and dont let it burn. The
sauce should be of an off-white color, but not brown (says my sister-in-law!)
Add a 1/2 cup or so of olive oil to the mix to make the sauce more liquid. There
are many versions and secrets to this recipe. Watch out for garlic that has begun
to sprout and remove any green hearts or buds inside your cloves as they may
create a bitter taste. Also, be sure that you cook the mixture over slow heat
throughout the process. Increase quantity by merely doubling or tripling the
ingredients. Increase the strength and saltiness of the dish by adding a few
more filets of anchovy in proportion to the other ingredients. You can serve
bagna cauda in two ways: warm the sauce and keep it warm in a fondue pot, as you
dip into it any vegetables you like: celery, carrots, cabbage, endive, cooked
red beets; Spread it cold on roasted peppers or cooked fennel or eat it with
meat (although the purists would be horrified by this!)

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