Bagna Cauda, also spelled bagna caôda, means “hot bath” in Italian.
Bagna Cauda originated in the Piedmont area of Italy and is one of the truly great dishes on earth, in my humble opinion. Garlic in copious quantities, excellent olive oil, top-quality butter and the best anchovy fillets simmer together to form an emulsion that is ambrosial when served with vegetables and bread. The butter and oil is scented, the garlic is softened, the anchovies are dissolved and add only a delicious and savory taste that you can’t quite put your finger on.
As cooking authority Marion Cunningham notes: “Bagna Cauda, which means hot bath, is a classic sauce from Piedmont, Italy. It is usually kept hot in a pot over a flame, but it can be presented at the table in a serving dish or in individual small bowls without the flame. Raw vegetables cut into bite-size pieces are speared on a long prong like fork and held in the hot sauce for a few seconds. In Italy, the most common vegetables eaten with Bagna Cauda are fennel, cauliflower, cabbage and sweet peppers, but any vegetable that is good to eat raw will work fine.”
The origin of Bagna Cauda dates back to the wine farmers of the late Middle Ages in Piedmont. They needed a special and exotic dish to celebrate an important event for them, which was the creation of the new wine. The Piedmontese farmers chose to marry two local raw materials: the good vegetables like garlic (a crop every Italian medieval farmer grew for medicinal as well as culinary purposes), with the salty anchovies that were a special treat shipped in barrels from other parts of Italy.
Added to this was olive oil, an almost exotic and expensive product sparsely produced in Piedmont during medieval times. For the most part, the oil was imported from nearby Liguria in exchange for grain, butter and cheese that abounded in the region.
My version of Bagna Cauda is very close to the original, but I have chosen to add some chopped parsley for color, as well as some chopped fresh thyme for additional flavor and a touch of cayenne.
Citizens – this recipe is delicious and a true classic, I hope you choose to give it a try! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil – I find Greek oil or a less assertive Tuscan oil works best in this recipe
10 cloves garlic, sliced razor thin (ideally) or chopped very fine
½ cup (1 stick) melted, clarified butter
10 Italian anchovy fillets (ideally from a glass jar), drained and finely chopped (JH note – the best anchovies – by far – are the Ortiz brand, sold at Whole Foods)
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pinches cayenne pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ tablespoon fresh thyme
Assorted vegetables for dipping, such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, carrots or whatever you enjoy most.
1. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until slightly softened but *not* browned, about 2 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and add all remaining ingredients
3. Return pan to medium heat and stir to mix thoroughly. Taste and add salt if needed (unlikely, but possible) and lots of fresh ground black pepper. Simmer gently until the anchovies melt into the sauce – again, try and avoid having the garlic brown – it too should ideally melt into the sauce.
4. Remove from heat and serve – try and keep the sauce hot as it is served, perhaps in a fondue pot. (Sauce may be made ahead, refrigerated in covered jar and reheated before serving).