And, while you’re at it, good fellow, I’ll have a warm bath with virtually anything you’ve got on the menu: pasta, potatoes, fish, chicken, soup, bread…
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
A man goes to the doctor complaining of neck ache. The doctor gives him some painkillers telling him to take two after a warm bath every evening for a week. When the man returns, the doctor asks him if he’s feeling better. “No,” replies the man, “my neck still hurts and it’s getting worse.” “Really? Did you not take two painkillers after a warm bath every night like I told you to?” asks the doctor. “I tried,” says the patient, “but I couldn’t swallow the pills after drinking the whole bath…”
No, dear readers, (and apologies for the excruciating “joke”), we’re not talking about any old warm bath, and certainly not the kind with bubbles and floating soap-dishes, no we’re talking about bagna caôda, the famed “warm bath” of the Piemonte and Liguria regions of northern Italy, that, as much as you might want to, you don’t actually climb into yourself.
Also spelled bagna càuda, this garlic, anchovy, oil and butter dipping sauce is to these parts of Italy what fondue is to the Swiss, and is typically consumed communally from a large central pot into which sharers dip their bread or raw, boiled or roasted vegetables. Like fondue, bagna caôda is always served hot, as it’s name suggests, and is usually eaten in the autumn and winter as an appetizer, starter or, even, a main course.
Quite apart from being phenomenally good and easy to make, it’s the ultimate combination of land and sea in the world of condiments. Combine anchovies fished off the Ligurian coasts with bright green and fruity Ligurian olive oil, tangy Piemontese garlic and sweet butter from the head of the Po Valley and you’ve got an awesome sauce that might be paired with anything. It’s not traditional – and you should try it the original way first – but we see no reason why bagna caôda couldn’t be made into a delicious pasta sauce with some tonno (Italian oil-cured tuna), spread on a fresh loaf for an amazing garlic bread, over grilled fish or chicken as an enhancing sauce, or mixed with mashed potatoes for a wonderfully flavorful side dish. Just be careful, it really is so damn good, you’ll be putting it your coffee next…
**I’d like to dedicate this post to Dana at Dana Treat for reminding me that a bit of meat-free posts could be ok sometimes! I, like a carnivorous idiot, commented on her vegetarian blog post about brussel sprouts asking her to “just add pancetta” for a tasty twist (something cheesy like that). I was quickly reminded that that would be a great idea if she wasn’t a veggie. Anyways, although this isn’t purely vegetarian, it sure as hell does not contain meat. Thanks, Dana!**
Bagna Caôda con Verdure Miste Cotte (anchovy, garlic sauce with grilled mixed vegetables)
Ingredients (serves 4-5 as an appetizer)
- 20-40 pieces of your favorite veggies, cut into bite sizes (cauliflower, broccoli, fennel, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, green beans and asparagus work well)
- 3/4 cup + 2 tsp good olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 1/2 oz anchovy fillets, minced finely
- 2 1/2 oz unsalted butter
- ground black pepper
- Over medium-low heat, gently cook garlic, anchovy and 3/4 cup olive oil in a saucepan until garlic softens and anchovy has pretty much dissolved, stirring occasionally. Do not brown garlic at all.
- Season with black pepper to taste.
- Stir in butter and allow to melt. Combine thoroughly and keep warm, do not allow to boil or cook anymore.
- Parboil root (and cauliflower/broccoli/fennel types)vegetables until beginning to soften. Remove to a ice bath and allow to cool thoroughly.
- Toss the cooled + still raw veggies with coarse sea salt, pepper and remaining olive oil , and grill over a hot fire until blistered and crunchy.
- Serve immediately with a warm bowl of bagna caôda and lots of fresh bread to catch the drips. Enjoy!