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Bagna Cauda Recipe - Piemontese Garlic Dipping Sauce Recipe

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Bagna Cauda (literally "hot sauce") arises from the interaction between land and sea, with the anchovies and olive oil brought overland by the Ligurian traders combining delightfully with the garlic grown in Piemonte, and is the symbol of joyful conviviality around which friends gather to renew the bonds that tie, serving the sauce in a bowl, and providing the diners with raw vegetables to dip in it, bread to accompany it, and rivers of Barbera or Dolcetto to wash it down.

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: 6 servings Bagna Cauda


  • 5 heads garlic
  • 3 cups good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound salted anchovies (buy these at a delicatessen, or use canned anchovies
  • packed in oil if you cannot find the variety just packed in salt)
  • 1 quart fresh whole milk
  • The vegetables:
  • What ever is in season and suits your fancy; traditionally one would expect:
  • Raw, cut into strips or bite-sized pieces:
  • 2 cardoons (see below note; if they are not available where you live substitute 3-4 sticks white celery)
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • A head of Savoy cabbage
  • Cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces:
  • 2 baked beets
  • 2 roasted bell peppers
  • A head of cauliflower, steamed and broken into florets
  • 6 potatoes, steamed
  • 6 carrots, steamed


Continuing with the introduction, I had been planning to write about stuffed bell peppers, but got sidetracked by a recipe for bagna cauda with roasted peppers, which brought back memories of a very nice meal Nadia Cogno prepared for Frank, Michael and me when we were on a wine tasting trip to Piemonte. The highlight of the meal was her husband Walter’s decision to break out a 29-year-old bottle of Barolo Marcarini her father had made, but the peppers were a close second.

Returning to the recipe, begin by peeling the heads of garlic. Set the cloves in a pot with the milk, and simmer them for an hour. While the garlic is simmering hold the anchovies by their tails and run your fingers down their sides to eliminate most of the salt that's sticking to them, then split, scale, and bone them. Next, prepare the vegetables, and arrange them on a serving dish.

After the garlic has simmered discard the milk and crush the cloves with a fork in a bowl. Work the olive oil into the garlic together with the anchovy fillets, and stir the mixture over a gentle flame until the fish fillets have come apart and the sauce is uniformly creamy.

The Bagna Cauda is now ready; divvy it out into 6 bowls, and serve it with the vegetables and freshly baked bread.

The authors of Slow Food's Ricette delle Osterie di Langa, note that bagna cauda is wonderful if you don't have to meet someone later "for business or randy pleasures," and that a good bagna cauda can easily be expanded into a meal, with the assistance of hot bowls of broth and pears cooked in wine. One could certainly do much worse.

They also note that recipes from the 1800s call for just cardoons and peppers as vegetables, and that they were aimed at sterner stomachs: No simmering the garlic in milk to temper it -- half was mashed and half was sliced finely, but all was raw until it hit the oil, and no boning of the anchovies -- the excess salt was wiped away before they went into the oil, and the crunchiness of the bones was much appreciated. Rather than go into individual bowls, the bagna cauda would go into a larger bowl all would dip their vegetables into, taking breaks every now and again when the sauce was reheated.

Returning to Peperoni con Bagna Cauda, you will need to make the bagna cauda sauce described above. You will also need three bell peppers (a variety of colors will make for a prettier dish), 2 tablespoons olive oil, and salt.

While the garlic is simmering in the milk, wash the peppers, dry them, rub them with olive oil, salt them, and bake them in a 425- degree (200 C) oven for an hour. As soon as they have cooled enough so you can touch them, scrape away the skins and cut them into strips, discarding ribs and seeds.

Lay the strips on a serving dish, spoon the bagna cauda over them, and serve. A fantastic appetizer!

Yield: Bagna Cauda for 6.

Last thing: A Word on Cardoons:
Cardoons, cardi in Italian, are a close relative of the artichoke, but lack the flower -- one eats the stems, which have a rather menacing celery-on-steroids appearance, but have a delicate artichoke taste. They're quite fibrous, and before you eat them you should peel away the fibers. Cut the bottom of the cardoon stem just above where it went into the ground, grip the fibers that emerge from the cut along the rounded outer edge between your thumb and the knife blade, and peel them away as you would the fibers in the back of a stick of celery.

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