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!

16 March 2009

It's been a long time. But I'm back. This is another one of those recipes that Sandra Lee ("Semi-Homemade Cooking" on FoodTV) would just love, although there is no whipped topping involved.

A friend of ours, Sharon, is married to a man who like to hunt. The past couple of years we have been the beneficiaries of his desire to kill. He has given us venison burgers, backstrap, steaks, and sausage. A few weeks ago we thawed some of the ground meat and had a BYOT (build your own taco) dinner party. After dinner, there was a lot of taco-seasoned ground veal left over, so I decided to semi-homemake [wink to Sandra] some empanadas, savory stuffed pastry that I learned to love at Alcorta in Córdoba, Argentina. (Marcelo, thanks for suggesting that we order those!) If you're interested, there is a good history of the empanada on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada.

In the interest of keeping it semi-homemade [wink], I used roll-out store-bought pie crust dough. My mother taught me how to make fully-homemade pie crust dough, but in the interest of keeping my semi-homemade [wink] theme, I went with the store-bought. I made some with Pillsbury brand and some with Kroger brand, and the only difference I could tell was the dollar in the price. Here's the low-down:

Easy Empanadas
(makes 16 pastries)

large non-stick skillet
2 parchment-lined half-sheet pans
small bowl
pastry brush
6-inch round pastry cutter (I used the lid of one of my metal canisters)
rolling pin

2 boxes (2 crusts each) roll-out pie dough at room temperature
1 pound ground meat
taco seasonings (I used an envelope or store-bought stuff)
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons water or milk
1 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa or pico de gallo

Heat oven to 350F.
Brown and season the ground meat in the skillet. Drain if necessary and set aside to cool.
Toss the cooled meat mixture and the cheese together.
Beat together the egg and water or milk in the small bowl.
Unroll a pie crust onto a flour-dusted surface.
Fold it in half, then roll it out lengthwise. You should be able to cut 3 six-inch rounds. Wad the leftover dough into a ball and roll it into another 6-inch round.
Using your index finger, moisten the edge of each round with the egg wash. This makes it easier to seal.
Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the meat-cheese mixture onto the center of each round of dough being careful to stay within the egg-washed egdes.
Fold the dough rounds in half and press the edges together with your fingers. Use the fork tynes to seal the edges.
Place the pastries on the half-sheet pan.
Repeat with the remaining 3 pie crusts.
Use the pastry brush to lightly "paint" the top side of the pastries with the egg wash.
Bake at 350F until golden brown, about 30 minutes, turning pans around after 20 minutes.
Serve hot with sour cream and salsa or pico de gallo.

Add fried or poached eggs on the side for an excellent breakfast. The runny egg yolks are a great "dip" for the flaky empanadas.