23 March 2009

Bagna Cauda

Last year, my friends in Argentina introduced me to bagna cauda (BAHNya COWda, as we'd say in the U.S.), an Italian fondue loaded with garlic and anchovies.  I didn't experience it while I was there, but I experienced it vicariously through them.  It's a party food, not unlike fondue in the U.S. in the 1970's (although I only experienced that in Garrett Middle School home economics class in 1976; remember that, Robert and Mark?).

We and some friends are going to Italy this summer and renting a Tuscan villa for a week.  In advance of that trip, each of us going is hosting a dinner party at which we plan various aspects of the imminent holiday.  Tonight was my and Tom's night, and based on what I learned from my friends in Argentina, I chose to prepare bagna cauda.

Bagna cauda, like fondue, is a stand-up-and-eat-it food.  Remove all the chairs from your dining room and remind your guests to wear comfortable shoes.

After a little research and many questions to my friends below the Equator (thanks, Karina!), I planned our evening.  Bagna cauda serves as the dipping sauce for crudites (bite-sized raw veggies), bread, and meats, such as meatballs and chicken.  On the Internet I found a recipe for Creamy Bagna Cauda.  There were several other recipes for oil-based bagna cauda, but being a product of the southern U.S., why would I NOT choose the creamy version?  There are several steps to the recipe (see below), but each step is simple, and the finished product is everything I expected, and much, much more.

For the dippers, I chose a variety of raw, par-boiled, and cooked stuff.  They are listed below the recipe.  Thanks to whatscookingamerica.net for the base recipe. (I served 6 adults and 3 hungry kids with this recipe, and had about 1/3 of everything left over, so adjust the volumes to your needs.)  Here's the scoop...

Greg's Creamy Bagna Cauda

large saucepan
medium saucepan
2 wood spoons
large sieve or strainer
small sieve or strainer
fondue pot or small crock pot
lots of bowls for serving all the dippers
2 bamboo skewers per guest (one per guest should do the trick, but lots of folks inadvertently throw theirs away and have to get another)

4 cups (1 quart) heavy cream
16 cloves garlic, peeled and whacked
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
10 finely chopped anchovy filets packed in oil, drained
1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

[The stuff below is what you use for dipping, so this is variable according to your taste.]

4 stalks celery sliced into narrow 3-inch sticks
1 pint small mushrooms, sauteed in olive oil until tender
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes and sauteed in oil until cooked
24 bite-size meatballs, cooked (I used "Italian style" frozen ones from the grocery)
16 bite-size new potatoes, boiled until softened, about 8 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and par-boiled
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florettes
1 French baquette, sliced

And to prepare the bagna cauda...

In the large saucepan over medium-high heat, add cream and garlic; bring just to a boil, lower heat to medium, and cook, stirring constantly, approximately 15 minutes or until the cream has thickened and reduced by half. Take off the heat and let cool.

In the other saucepan, melt the butter. Add the anchovies to the butter, along with parsley and pepper flakes. Cook until the anchovies dissolve, about 5 minutes. If the cream has not cooled, yet, remove butter/anchovy mixture from heat.

When cream has cooled, mash the garlic with a fork. Force the cream and garlic through a sieve into the butter/anchovy mixture. Heat the sauce, stirring constantly until totally blended, but do not let it boil.  This is your bagna cauda.

Transfer the hot bagna cauda to the fondue pot or crock pot to keep it warm.  Place the pot in the middle of your serving table and surround it with the dishes of dippers.

To kick off your event, demonstrate how it works...  Take a plate, a napkin, and a skewer.  (Karina says that small forks work well, too.)  Place a round or two of baquette on your plate.  Stab a dipper, dredge it through the bagna cauda, let the excess bagna cauda drip onto your bread, and savor the flavor.

And here is the aftermath.  God love a dishwasher and a partner who makes the ideal clean-up crew!

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