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All about Bagna Cauda, with a recipe and a source.
Piemonte, on the border of France and Switzerland, is a region of big red wines and flavorful cooking. When the weather is cold there, friends gather to drink young, grapey wine served with a garlic-anchovy-olive oil dip called bagna cauda - "hot bath" in local dialect. Each diner receives a fornelletto - an individual terra-cotta bowl holding the dip, warmed by a candle inserted underneath it.
Bagna cauda is often served with a vegetable medley of raw celery, carrots, fennel, red radicchio or endive wedges and red or yellow bell peppers. Some cooks serve boiled potatoes, cooked beets and baked onions as well. Traditionalists insist on wide strips of red peppers pickled in layers of grape pomace (the pulpy residue of pressing). Vegetables are dipped into the bagna cauda and transferred to the mouth over a piece of bread to avoid dripping. Eat the vegetable, then eat the bread.
In Piemonte I've had lots of advice about bagna cauda: eat it with friends. When most of the dip is gone, scramble an egg in each fornelletto and top with white truffle. Finish the meal with a bowl of broth to aid digestion. One expert insisted on three-year-old anchovies, boned and melted into the dip, but told me I'd never find any - and I haven't.
Recipes for this dip abound in Italian cookbooks. After anchovies, most call for a head of garlic per person, that's peeled and cooked (whole, sliced or minced) in milk, cream, wine, or water. Extra-virgin olive oil is used alone or combined with butter. A few walnuts or some white truffle crumbs are sometimes added. One straightforward recipe (from La Contea, a piemontese restaurant in Neive), which dresses roasted potatoes and peppers with bagna cauda, and appeared in the April 1995 issue of Gourmet (see below).
Lazy cooks will appreciate a kit produced by Mongetto, a farm in the hilly Piemonte countryside of Monferrato. It contains a jar of bagna cauda, a fornelletto, a candle and matches.
March 6, 1996
ROASTED PEPPERS AND POTATOES WITH BAGNA CAUDA
At many places in Italy, roasted peppers are dressed with bagna cauda, the classic warm anchovy and garlic sauce, but our cooks especially enjoyed it at La Contea, a restaurant in Neive, a village in the Piedmont. In this variation, potato slices have been added.
Roasted Peppers and Potatoes
5 large yellow bell peppers
5 large red bell peppers
1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon
5 anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
In a large shallow roasting pan, broil peppers about 2 inches from heat, turning every 5 minutes, until skins are blistered and charred, 15 to 25 minutes. Transfer peppers to a bowl and let steam, covered, until cool. Starting at blossom end, peel peppers and discard stems, seeds and ribs. Cut peppers into thirds. Peppers may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered. Drain peppers before using.
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Peel potatoes and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a shallow baking pan, toss potatoes with oil and salt and pepper to taste and spread in one layer in pan. Roast potatoes until golden, about 20 minutes. Potatoes may be roasted 8 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.
In a small saucepan, heat oil, garlic paste, and anchovy paste over moderate heat, stirring, until warm and stir in parsley.
On a platter, toss peppers and potatoes with warm bagna cauda to coat and season with salt and pepper.
Serves 12 as Part of a Buffet.