Bagna càuda is originally from Piedmont in northern Italy, a region buttressed on two sides by Switzerland and France.
Traditionally it was served as a hot dipping sauce for vegetables and bread. It was served in a warmed vessel in a fashion similar to fondue. Cooked slowly for ages, the garlic and anchovies dissolved to a paste.
The version I make is served cold, which brings out more of the anchovy flavour and the garlic. The garlic is usually warmed with the anchovies in oil, but we’ve taken the garlic, cooked it in milk to soften it and remove the pungency, and then made it into an emulsion with oil.
Instead of using an egg yolk, as you would in mayonnaise, we’ve used bread. Sometimes bagna càuda is made with butter instead of oil but, because this recipe is served cold, that is not an option.
It’s nice that it’s a shared dish in the true sense of the word. That is, everyone eats from the same pan. I like to start meals this way. It breaks down barriers and opens things up. There is something strangely hospitable about being served something you will share with other people.
My favourite vegetable to serve with this would have to be fennel, followed closely by radish and then celery heart. The sweetness of capsicum can also be nice. Other things that are good are boiled eggs or boiled potatoes, both of which should be served cool. I like to peel small potatoes for this – kipfler or something waxy such as a small King Edward.
The bagna càuda in this incarnation, emulsified and served cool, means it also works well as a dressing. I would suggest using this on anything from grilled zucchini to lettuce leaves. It’s quite thick, so it coats things well. A spoonful on a sandwich would do justice to a good slice of mortadella, too: a much underrated meat in this country, largely for its mistreatment in school lunches.
In every gathering, there is someone who claims they don’t like anchovies. This is a good way to trick them. The flavours are so balanced – with the oil and the garlic – that most people will not know they are eating anchovies at all.
- 140g garlic cloves
- 1 litre milk
- 100g quality anchovy fillets, drained of oil
- 20g fresh white breadcrumbs, soaked in milk
- 80ml mild olive oil
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Place the garlic in a stainless-steel saucepan and pour in just enough milk to cover. Bring to the simmer and turn off immediately. Set the pot aside to cool to room temperature. When cool discard the milk and repeat this process three times.
- When the final cooking of the garlic is complete, puree the garlic and anchovy fillets with the breadcrumbs in an upright blender. With the machine running, puree the ingredients, slowly adding the oil to emulsify. You should be left with a thick puree-like sauce.
- If the sauce seems a little thick simply thin it with water, adding one teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.
- Serve with fennel, radish or celery heart.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 31, 2015 as "The dipping news".
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