Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Recipes for Bagna Càuda (Δύο Συνταγές για Μπάνια Καούντα)

Last night, we had a hot olive oil bath and went to bed happy. We didn’t dive into olive oil; our dinner did.

Bagna Càuda, a specialty of Italy’s
Piedmont Region, combines oil with anchovies and garlic to make a hot dip for vegetables and bread. Cooked over low heat, anchovies melt into oil and garlic’s strength turns smooth and mild.

I was first introduced to Bagna Càuda by the proprietors of
Genoa Restaurant in Portland, Oregon (now closed). It was love at first taste. Genoa’s Bagna Càuda was rich and luxurious, creamy and indefinably delicious. I wanted more.

After I discovered Genoa’s recipe in a cookware store handout, its Bagna Càuda regularly showed up on the tables of me and my friends. Unlike the Bagna Càuda I make now, Genoa’s recipe doesn’t contain a speck of olive oil; its richness comes exclusively from butter and cream.

In the Portland years, I was young and undeterred by buckets of cream and butter. As time passed, I lost my enthusiasm for both. I used to cook with butter, using olive oil mostly for salad dressings. Now, I rarely use butter; olive oil has replaced it in my kitchens. I stopped making Bagna Càuda.

Even so, when my husband and I travelled to Italy’s Piedmont Region in 1997, I was eager to try Bagna Càuda in its homeland. We found it in a tiny lakeside restaurant in
La Morra, where we were the only customers. The television was blaring, the florescent lights blazing, and our expectations for the food low.

When the Bagna Càuda arrived at our table, it was a revelation. It didn’t contain cream or butter. Instead, garlic and anchovies were melted in olive oil and served in a roasted red pepper half. Every bite was a pleasure.

As with Genoa’s Bagna Càuda so many years ago, the taste and aroma of this new-to-me version lingered in my memory. Back in Alaska, I developed a simple recipe incorporating its flavors, using only olive oil, garlic, and anchovies.
Last Thursday, my regular
CSA box of vegetables arrived from Full Circle Farm. The refrigerator was overflowing; I couldn’t find space for an extra-large bunch of broccoli. Bagna Càuda (my version) was the solution. While the anchovy and garlic sauce simmered, I steamed broccoli and roasted a couple red peppers over a gas burner.

When the Bagna Càuda was done, we dipped our vegetables and bread in the hot savory bath, ate our fill, and licked our fingers clean.

Bagna CaudaLaurie's Bagna Càuda (Μπάνια Καούντα)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Though the recipe contains a lot of garlic and anchovies, their pungency disappears after simmering in hot oil. For a group, serve Bagna Càuda in a fondue dish or other pot which keeps the sauce hot. For quick weekday meals, serve the sauce in individual unheated dishes for dipping, or even just spooned, straight from the stove, over the vegetables.

1/4 cup chopped anchovy fillets (2 ounces/24 cleaned fillets)
(see Note below)
1/3 cup chopped fresh garlic
1 1/4 cups olive oil

Selection of Vegetables: Raw or roasted red peppers, raw or lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower, celery, carrots, zucchini, cardoons, radishes, green onions, radicchio, fennel, cherry tomatoes, boiled potatoes

Selection of Bread: artisan-style bread, foccacia, breadsticks

Put the anchovy fillets, garlic, and olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the oil starts to bubble. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the anchovies melt into the oil and the garlic is very soft. Don’t let the garlic brown; if the oil is cooking hard enough to brown the garlic, immediately turn down the heat.

While the sauce is cooking, cut the vegetables and bread into shapes appropriate for dipping. When the sauce is done, dip the cold vegetables in the hot sauce.

Anchovies preserved in salt have much more flavor than anchovies canned in olive oil. In dishes like Bagna Càuda, where anchovies are a central ingredient, I prefer the salt-cured variety (the dish is delicious even when made with oil-canned anchovies). Some places, you can buy salted anchovies by the ounce from the deli counter; in Alaska, this isn’t possible. Instead, I buy large cans of salt-preserved anchovies in Greece or when I travel outside the state (Big John’s PFI in Seattle carries them, as does Anchovies packed in salt keep in the refrigerator for up to a year. To clean salt-cured anchovies, carefully rinse off all the salt. Starting from the head end, peel each fillet off the backbone, and then remove as many of the fine bones from the fillet as possible. Dry the cleaned fillets on paper towels before using in recipes.

Genoa's Bagna Càuda (Μπάνια Καούντα)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Genoa Restaurant recipe, Portland, Oregon
Genoa’s Bagna Càuda must be kept warm over a burner at all times; the reduced cream stiffens up when it cools. The anonymous author of Genoa’s recipe explains how to eat it: “[This] is a dish to be enjoyed without ceremony – pick up vegetable or bread stick with fingers, dip it in the sauce until well covered, and consume. If butter and cream separate, pour in a bit of cold cream and whisk hard. The sauce will return to its former velvet-like texture.”

2 cups heavy cream
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets, drained of oil
Dash of cayenne
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Selection of Vegetables: Raw or roasted red peppers, raw or lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower, celery, carrots, zucchini, cardoons, radishes, green onions, radicchio, fennel, cherry tomatoes, boiled potatoes

Selection of Bread: artisan-style bread, foccacia, breadsticks

In a heavy saucepan, simmer cream with garlic until the cream is thick and reduced to 1 cup. Watch the cream carefully as it cooks; don't let it boil over. Put the reduced cream, anchovies, and cayenne into a blender and purée until the mixture is very smooth. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.)

Return the mixture to the pan and bring to a very slow simmer. Stir in the butter until it melts. While the dip simmers, cut the vegetables and bread into shapes appropriate for dipping.

Serve in a fondue dish or other pot which can keep the dip hot. Dip the cold vegetables in the hot sauce.

This is my entry for Foodie Films: Big Night - Italian! created and hosted by Joelen's Culinary Adventures.


Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

I think I prefer the olive oil version Laurie. This is so easy and def on my next dinner party list! Just beautiful!

Maria said...

That looks delicious and something I will definitely try out for our next friendly get-together. I've never actually tried this dip as such but I can see it becoming a regular addition to our menu.

Maria Verivaki said...

anchovies are something my husband has never really enjoyed in his food, which is why we don't use them a lot. i prefer the salt-cured ones too, rather than the tinned ones in olive oil

Karen said...

This sounds so delicious. I use anchovies when I make my spaghetti sauce - I love the way they just disappear into the olive oil! I'd like to dip bread in this. And I think your version sounds more tempting than the one with cream!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds fabulous. I had never heard of Bagna Cauda until reading this. We LOVE anchovies and have very few places to use them, pizza topping and just eating right out of the jar on a saltine cracker are two of my favorites. Am definitely going to try this. Olive oil, anchovies and garlic... + bread, doesn't get better than that :)

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Thanks for sharing both of these delicious dips Laurie:D It just makes it hard to choose:D

Laurie Constantino said...

Peter, break out the fondue pot!

Maria, what's best about it is it's so easy. You can also make it well ahead of company arriving - all you need to do is warm it up.

Kiwi, you might be surprised about your husband with this. I'm not sure why, but a lot of anchovy-phobes have ended up liking it. The slow cooking tames the anchovies.

Karen, you are right about adding anchovies to spaghetti sauce. It is so good!

Exactly, Kalliope!

Val, I don't think you can lose with either version!

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I haven't had a bagna cauda in years. Thanks for reminding me what a wonderful party dish this is!

Joanne said...

oh Laurie you are a temptress! I have been trying to curb my bread consumption as a means to shave off some of my glorious Mediterranean curves LOL :D How can I resist this now? For a moment there, I actually thought you had a therapeutic olive oil bath at a spa. That would be one expensive bath, but just imagine your skin afterwards :)

Anonymous said...

A hot olive oil bath... can't be that exotic, we've all got the ingredients!! Bijoux, any chance you're planning to pull out your old tub and the new house? You could try it and let us know what happens :)

Rachel said...

A temptress indeed. Hot olive oil, broccoli and anchovies? I'm in. Thanks for sending that sexy Spinach Skordalia recipe to WHB #166. The Roundup is now posted if you want to stop by and check it out.

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Great simple recipe Laurie.

Thumbs up for replacing butter in your cooking to olive oil. I am like you, I always use olive oil in my cooking. It's so much better for you!

Joanne said...

hi Kalliope, we might be onto something with this hot olive oil spa bath. I've been to a few spas in the past, and have never encountered something like that before, LOL. Kind of reminds me of the movie "Summer Lovers,"(a very bad 80s movie) about a couple who, while vacationing on the island of Santorini, decide to douse themselves in olive oil. See Laurie, I told you this olive oil bath with bread, would tempt me in hedonistic ways :D

Anonymous said...

Now I have to order some of those salt-cured anchovies! I wonder if Summit Spice & Tea, here in Anchorage, would order some for us? Hmm. This looks DIVINE!! might be right up there with roasting vegetables in garlicky olive oil!

PG said...

I like both the versions of bagna càuda so much! Didn't know about it before. I'll be making it soon for dinner. :)

Laurie Constantino said...

Lydia, people do always enjoy this at a party don't they?

Bijoux - it's hard for Greeks to accept, but it actually IS possible to have a meal without bread. Heresy, I know. If you just use veggies, this is actually health food. As for bathing in oil, see below under business opportunity?

Kalliope, there's always the issue of getting the oil out of the tub.... If Bijoux tries, I hope there's a video!

Rachel, as I said elsewhere, you did a great job with the whb round-up! Thanks for letting me know it was done.

You're so right Nihal!

Bijoux - opportunity ... canada's first hot tubes filled with olive oil. Aside from that, I'd say a dinner that would tempt you in hedonistic ways is well worth eating!

Alison, they are really good. Actual flavor, not just salt bombs which too often the oil-canned ones can be. Summit Spice might bring them. Sagaya has had them a couple times in the past but erratically and not for years. If you can't find the salted, just buy the best-quality olive oil ones. Or put it on your list for next time you leave town.

PG, why not make them both, invite your friends over, and have them help you decide which version is best!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of the cream version of bagna cauda, but now we may have to try them side by side for comparison. You know, for research purposes...

Núria said...

Although I'm not Italian, this is so familiar to me! Both versions sound super Laurie! I can find these in any supermarket here and the combo with the roasted pepper is fantastic :D

When is dinner ready?

Anonymous said...

Very nice post, Laurie!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

That takes me right back - I used to have a special bagna cauda set, like a mini-fondue set. Haven't tried a version with cream, so am tempted to give that a whirl.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, it's 9am here and my mouth is watering. I had never heard of this recipe but I love anchovies and I know I'd love this dip. I'll be trying it very soon and will let you know how it goes. Cheers.

Selba said...

Yummy and healthy indeed!

~~louise~~ said...

Now there's a unique dish for Super Bowl Sunday! I too haven't had Bagna Cauda in years.

Thanks for sharing, Laurie...

Anonymous said...

I don't know...sometimes I love olive oil and sometimes I love butter. Both these recipes look very exciting!

Anonymous said...

Ah, youth. They say it's wasted on the young, but I don't think the good digestion aspect of youth would be wasted on me...or anybody. Not to mention the calorie burning aspect.

Laurie Constantino said...

Yes, Manju - only for research puposes. Of course.

Nuria, the table's set - come on over!

Thanks, Maryann!

Forkful, I have ALWAYS wanted one of a fondue pot.

Syrie, I can't wait to hear how it goes.

Selba, you should try it - it's easy.

Louise - in fact we had the leftovers for SuperBowl Sunday...

Jo, how can you go wrong with lots of garlic and anchovies??

Exactly, Lulu.

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