In the earliest part of my childhood I spent a lot of time with my Nonna Titta. I've spoken about her in many occasions on this blog. She was a pillar of my upbringing, and even though I was 9 when she passed away, she left me many memories and an impressive mark on my nature and individuality. I see a lot of her in myself today.
In particular, the memories I associate the most with Nonna are sensory. The taste of her gummy, black Allenbury candies stashed in a tin box at the bottom of her beauty case, the glint in her emerald green eyes while we played pretending to be ladies having tea, and mostly, the smells coming from the kitchen when she'd cook. Her pièce de résistance was Bagna Càuda, characteristic of her Piedmontese origins.
This appetizer/soup, whose name in dialect means "hot bath," is enjoyed by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables in a manner similar to fondue in a heated blend of garlic, anchovy and olive oil. It is traditionally an autumn/winter recipe and must be eaten hot, as the name suggests.
Bagna Càuda can be served in individual dipping bowls, or placed in a larger terracotta pan, placed on a burner at the center of the table, for communal sharing. Pictured above is the clay pot in which Nonna cooked and served hers.
Whenever my mother or I make Bagna Càuda, this is what we we still use.
Here's how we continue Nonna's tradition:
500 gr (2 1/2 cups) extra virgin olive oil
150 gr (3/4 cup) salted anchovies
50 gr (1/4 cup) butter
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
Assorted vegetables for dipping:
2 cardoons (if these are not available where you live, substitute with 3–4 ribs of white celery, cut in sticks)
2 yellow bell peppers, cut in sticks
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 Topinambur (aka Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, sunchoke, or earth apple), peeled and cut in chunks
5 radishes, peeled
2 carrots, cut in sticks
2 artichokes, cored, outer leaves removed and quartered lengthwise
3 spring onions
Scrape the anchovies with a paring knife, rid them of the bones and open them flat. Brush away excess salt with a kitchen towel, and do not rinse with water.
Thinly slice the garlic and trim away green parts, if any.
In an enameled terracotta pan (if you don't have one, a common nonstick saucepan will do), melt the butter over extremely mild heat, add the garlic and let it tan without browning.
Add the olive oil and the anchovies, gently simmering, stirring and breaking up the fillets with the back of a wooden spoon. Do this for 10 minutes, or until the sauce is creamy and evenly blended.
Serve on a fondue burner or on a cooling rack placed over tea light candles to keep the delicious bagna as càuda as possible while you gobble away, washing down with rivers of Barbera or Dolcetto.
Note: For those fearsome of such copious amounts of garlic, there's a trick: you halve the quantity of oil and compensate with a cup of whole milk, to be poured in at the same time. Identical garlic quantity, and same exact procedure: the milk tames the punch of the garlic.
It works, trust Nonna.