Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bagna Caôda

Bagna Caôda is a classic Italian dish native to the Piemonte area. The name arises from the interaction between land and sea, with the anchovies and olive oil brought overland by Liguarian traders combining delightfully with the garlic grown in Piemonte. It is the symbol of joyful conviviality around which friends gather.

My grandmother's cousin had talked about making Bagna Caôda for years and years. I had heard stories of my long past grandparents entertaining loads of people on a long table at their home in Castroville. There, wine was flowing and fondue pots were used to keep a garlic and anchovy mixture hot for dipping bread and unusual vegetables into. Finally, the night had come for her to share this family recipe.

It all starts by peeling and thinly slicing a staggering 6 or 7 heads of garlic. Not cloves of garlic, but heads of garlic.

In a 2-quart sauce pan, pour a light olive oil over the garlic until it reaches an inch over the top.
Cook over low to medium heat until just bubbling. Stir periodically to keep from sticking to the bottom.

After 20 minutes, the garlic will begin to soften.

After 40 minutes, the garlic turns a to a shade of brown and becomes very tender.

Add 2 cans of anchovies with its oil and mix.

After another 20 minutes, the anchovies and garlic will be disintegrating. Add 1/2 cube of butter and 1/2 cup of white wine. Continue on heat until butter is melted.

At this point, keep it on a very low heat to remain warm.

The vegetables can be any that are in season. Traditionally, with my family, the key vegetable is Cardone. It is pronounced Car-dough-nay and is a cousin to the artichoke. No wonder it was so important of an ingredient with my grandfather being an artichoke farmer. The Cardone is grown for its edible stalks, much like celery.

Once the Cardone is the desired size, the plant is wrapped up and burried for a few weeks until the stalks become white in color removing much of the bitterness. Maybe because of this preparation, we were able to eat it raw, unlike all the other places I have looked saying it needs to be cooked. Ours was placed in a paper bag for a few weeks. It was a milder than I had expected with a slight taste of artichoke.

Other vegetables that we tried were cabbage, anise, carrots, celery, sweet bell peppers, radishes, cauliflower, and broccolini. Of course there were many loafs of fresh french bread to dip as well.

It was an amazing meal that I will remember, and taste, for a long time.

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