Piedmontese Hot Oil, Garlic and Anchovy Dip

Bagna Caoda

Traditionally, this classic Piedmontese dip is served in a terracotta pot placed over hot embers, preferably oak, to keep it hot. All this is much too complicated for the average household, so I recommend you use a fondue set instead, or alternatively some kind of heating tray with a night light set underneath. It is served with a selection of vegetables which are dipped into the bubbling garlic and anchovy mixture and eaten at a leisurely pace.

For decades, the dip was made with walnut oil, which is now a rare delicacy in Piedmont. To recapture that ancient flavour, try crushing a few shelled and peeled walnuts in the olive oil. There are several variations on this dish: some people add wine to the bubbling oil, whilst in the Alba area if there happens to be some Bagna left at the end each person will break an egg into the mixture and scramble it over the heat to finish the meal.

This delicious version was prepared for me by Franca Caccia. Although she uses almost the same ingredients as everyone else, her method is quite definitely her own - obviously developed over years of experience! Franca lives near Alba, the centre of the Langhe, where the white Piedmontese truffle and the vast range of delicious Piedmontese wines come from.

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Ingredients

The Vegetables

  • Jerusalem artichokes, peeled
  • cauliflower florets
  • red and green peppers, cut into strips
  • crisp white cabbage leaves
  • turnips, peeled, boiled and cut into strips
  • potatoes, peeled, boiled and cut into strips
  • carrots, cut into strips
  • button onions, peeled and lightly boiled
  • fennel bulbs, quartered
  • globe artichokes, prepared as explained and served raw or cooked

The Dip

  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced (more if desired)
  • anchovies preserved in salt, cleaned and boned, or 3 canned anchovy fillets, drained
  • 1 heaped tablespoonunsalted butter
  • salt to taste
  • ½ tomato, peeled and chopped (optional)
  • 3 tablespoonscream (optional)

Method

Prepare the vegetables and arrange them on a platter in an attractive pattern.

Heat the oil until sizzling hot, then add the garlic. Fry the garlic until golden, then add the anchovies and lower the heat. Cook slowly until the anchovies have dissolved into the oil, then stir in the butter and add salt to taste. If you wish, add ½ chopped tomato and 3 tablespoons cream, stir and heat through briefly. Serve very hot.

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