Move over hummus, there’s a new dip in town.
Bagna Cauda, literally ‘hot bath,’ is a pungent Italian dip, perfect served with raw vegetables or as a sauce for chargrilled meats. This heady concoction of anchovies, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil is not for the faint-hearted, but for those who come to the dark side, there are many rewards to be had. This dip possesses an unrivalled fashionability; a swaggering robustness that oozes Italian confidence alongside a timeless elegance. An iron fist in a velvet glove. Big Dip Energy at its greatest.
Bagna Cauda hails from the Piedmont region of Italy, an area known particularly for its vineyards. The salty dip is said to have been created by wine farmers in the late Middle Ages who wanted a special dish to celebrate the most important time of the year: the draft of the new wine.
Bagna Cauda was, then, brought about as a way of emblematising the richness of Piedmont’s gastronomic scene. The dip is a great example of farmers marrying locally sourced produce into a delicious union; there is the garlic (which, at the time, was compulsory cultivation by order of Statute), and the salted anchovies, preserved in barrels and brought from the Ligurian coast.
In its symbolism of the fraternity of Piedmontese farmers, bagna cauda became a dish that could not be eaten alone. This was an appetiser to be shared by many, perfect for special occasions. Indeed, because of its placement in the rituals of the Piedmontese people, a particular way of eating the dish emerged, whereby the dip would be made in huge copper pots and the farming community would dunk pieces of raw vegetable and stale bread into the mixture.
Bagna Cauda is, without doubt, the perfect party dip.
Serve up a bowlful of this to your guests and you’ve got the makings of a great party, save a few bottles of Barbera. The traditional way of serving this is above a spirit burner (it stops the dip splitting while it sits), however, simply serving the dip in a fairly hot bowl does the trick just fine.
Bagna Cauda (Serves 4)
125ml extra virgin olive oil (the oil must be extra-virgin, as the dip requires its pepperiness)
6 cloves of garlic (fewer if you desire less of a pungent hit)
12 anchovies preserved in olive oil, drained and chopped
8 tbsp butter
1. Put the olive oil in a pan with the garlic and anchovies and stir over a low heat for a few minutes. It is important that you do this over a low heat as you want the anchovies and garlic to meld together, to form a kind of emulsion.
2. Whisk in the butter, tablespoonful by tablespoonful, and as soon as it has melted, remove from the heat and whisk a few more times so that everything is creamy and amalgamated.
3. Serve with raw vegetables or stale bread. I particularly like this dip with any vegetables that have a bit of bite – chicory is sensational, however, so are radishes or cauliflower. Also, don’t forget that this makes a fantastic sauce poured over a juicy steak.