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Bagna Cauda

 If there’s one dish that’s typical of Italy’s Piedmont region, it’s bagna cauda, sometimes spelled “caôda.” Although bagna means “bath” in the Italian language, in the Piemontese dialect, it means sauce; hence bagna caudo translates to “warm sauce.” Along with a glass or two of wine, it’s the perfect way to warm up during the cold winter months. The origins of the dish are a mystery, but it was traditionally served by winemakers in the late Middle ages after they poured their wine into barrels. It remained as “cucina povera” or “peasant food” for a long time, but nowadays, restaurants all over Piedmont include this on their menus, including Antica Bruschetteria Pautasso in Torino, where I recently ate this lusty dish. It arrives at the table with two earthenware bowls — one with a candle below that helps keep it at just the right temperature, as you ladle more in from the crock in which it’s cooked.

The basic ingredients are olive oil, anchovies, garlic and butter, while some versions add milk or cream as well. If you’re feeling really decadent and your pocketbook allows, you can shave some truffles on top. In that case, you’ve surely elevated it above cucina povera. Gather your friends around the table since it’s a dish to enjoy with others before the main course, or just as an excuse to sit together and talk. Serve with crisp, raw vegetables, such as fennel, carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and wedges of cabbage.
If you do find yourself at Antica Bruschetteria Pautasso in Torino, order the bagna cauda, and a dish of tajarin (Piemontese dialect for taglierini pasta) made with sausage and leeks. Just looking at the photo makes me long to be back in Torino.

Bagna Caôda
printable recipe here
From “The Classic Italian Cookbook” by Marcella Hazan

3/4 cup olive oil
3 T. butter
2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
8 to 10 flat anchovy fillets, chopped
1 tsp. salt

 

1. Heat oil and butter in a pot over medium-high heat until butter is thoroughly liquified and barely begins to foam. (Don’t wait for the foam to subside or the butter will be too hot.) Add the garlic and sauté very briefly. It must not take on any color. Add the anchovies and cook over very low heat, stirring frequently, until the anchovies dissolve into a paste. Add the salt, stir, and bring to the table along with raw vegetables.