To celebrate garlic planting season, we decided to make a new favorite – bagna cauda. It’s a traditional Italian appetizer/dip, often served in the fall and winter, and the name means something like ‘hot bath’. We stumbled upon this phenomenon while stopping for coffee and Chicago dogs in Cle Elum (on our way to Canyon City, OR) at Gunnar’s Coffee Cabin. Flipping through a guide to the locale (even though I have camped, hiked & travelled in this area since I could walk, there is still more to learn), we saw a mention of bagna cauda and a festival. The next wifi opportunity had us on the google and we liked what we read. Bagna cauda is very simple and very tasty. The main ingredients are garlic, olive oil, butter, and anchovies. There are many versions though, including some with cream.
This evocative article on the cultural history of this dish illuminates the deep connections between farmer, climate, community, and seasons. Unlike our modern grocery shopping experience where pretty much anything we want is available any time of the year, our ancestors had the joy of anticipating food (and celebrations of that food) only at certain times of the year.
The bagna cauda was a course to be eaten in large company, because the whole community celebrated together this common satisfaction, in fact there was one large tinned copper pot over coals, containing the mixture of oil, garlic and anchovies, and in this everybody dipped the vegetables and the bread.
The bagna cauda was ultimately a ritual dish, because of the periodicity and the much-expected recurrence of the festival. Along with the meal comes a more or less conscious sense of gratitude to the forces of nature that the farmers intuitively reconnected to the ceremony, which imbued this singular and different dinner with rituality.
If you’d like to experience old-fashioned peasant-style seasonal eating (aside from the pumpkin spice lattes that show up this time of year) give bagna cauda a try. Here’s the recipe and ‘dip vehicles’ we used:
- Anchovies – the equivalent of a 2 oz. can, oil drained, coarsely chopped (we have a giant vat of oil-packed anchovies in the fridge, so I just hauled out enough to make it pungent in a good way).
- Garlic cloves – about 24 unpeeled large ones. Again, go with the flow. If you’re feeling the need (after all, it’s nearly Halloween and vampires may be afoot) use more.
- Butter – 2 tablespoons.
- Olive oil – 1/3 cup of the good stuff (extra-virgin).
- Parsley – a few sprigs chopped, if you have it. This recipe for boniet, and our hardy parsley plants in the front yard, inspired this flavorful addition.
Simmer garlic cloves in medium saucepan of salted water until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, cool, and peel. Place garlic in shallow bowl; mash with back of fork until smooth. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add anchovies and stir 1 minute. Add garlic, then whisk in olive oil. Stir in chopped parsley. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 5 minutes, whisking occasionally (sauce may separate). Season with salt and pepper.
Dip vehicles (what we used) –
- Bread – warmed baguette
- Fresh mozzarella balls
- Baby bell pepper chunks
- Carrot sticks
- Zucchini sticks
- Potatoes – steamed Ozette fingerlings
A quick google images search brings up a myriad of ways to serve bagna cauda. I’m sure once you give it a try you’ll experiment until you find your own favorite version.
Seven Trees Farm is working on our own ‘native’ strains of garlic. Next summer we’ll have Chesnok Red, Kettle River(both the humans of Seven Trees lived near this river for a time), and Lorz Italian available for sale (a few samplers available now, just hit the contact button for more info).