Saturday, September 10, 2011

Anchovies to The Rescue: Bagna Caoda (or Cauda)

Today we are in Piedmont. It is a northern region of Italy, near Liguria and Lombardy, and one rich of many strong characteristics. Its distinctive dialect, rich of French influences, its important historic role, with Turin as the royal headquarters and the first capital of Italy, and its cuisine, so rich of surprisingly tasty dishes.

Today's trip will let you discover one of the most famous dishes of Piedmont and northern Italy. I am talking about the Bagna Caoda (or Cauda), a very simple dish of peasant origins. It consists of a thick anchovy sauce placed in a casserole in the middle of the table and eaten with fresh vegetables or on bread slices. It was a common dinner during the cold winter of poor farmers.
As for other dishes such as polenta, the custom of communal eating from the center of the table has pragmatic origins: dishes were few or completely lacking, plus letting each one help himself took away work from the housekeeping wife (who had also been working around the house all day). With time this custom has remained as a convivial way of sharing a meal among friends and family members.

The Recipe of Bagna Caoda (Cauda)

Ingredients: for four people you will need 400 grams of salt anchovies, 250 grams of garlic, one fourth of a liter of milk and one glass of good olive oil.
As for vegetables and other ingredients you have the choice of a variety of your favorite ones, but you should try to get cardoons, a delicious combination with the sauce.

Gently boil the garlic with milk until you can smash it with the gentle pressure of a fork. While you are cooking the garlic, fillet and clean the anchovies removing the central fishbone. Rinse them thoroughly in garlic to remove the excess salt. In a separate casserole, preferably earthenware, pour the olive oil and when it is warm set the anchovies to melt in the oil. Then pour the garlic and some cooking milk inside. Now mix in while cooking on low-medium heat, then process with a hand blender until you get a very smooth cream. Keep simmering until the sauce becomes moderately thick.

The preparation of vegetables is quite simple. Clean an abundant selection of your favorite ones and serve them along the Bagna Caoda sauce. If you have cardoons, the preparation is a tad longer, but definitely rewarding. Remove the leaves until you are left with just the stems. Parboil them for one minute in salty water, then remove the harder fibers gently scraping with a knife, then serve.

You can serve the sauce in separate heated bowls or the traditional way in the cooking earthenware casserole at the center of the table. Each one will deep his vegetables in.

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