Party Dip Goes Piedmont

The author (center, rear) and friends, hour 8, pitcher #12 — Vesuvios bar North Beach, San Francisco

Next time you’re having a dinner party at your home, dispense with the crudites or the waxy wedge of brie. I’ve got something better for you. It’s called bagna cauda (or bagna calda, if you prefer — easier to pronounce), it hails from the Piedmont region of Italy, and you’ll marvel how your guests gather around it, each trying not to look like the guy who’s hogging it all.

When I was a younger man and used to make freewheeling roadtrips up to San Francisco with my friends, we would always wind up at the Stinking Rose — a garlic Italian restaurant in North Beach. The main attraction was the meltingly delicious garlic in olive oil they would bring to the table with crusty bread — essentially bagna cauda. Once, after dropping into Jack Kerouac’s favorite bar, Vesuvios, for a beer while trying to decide what to do with our afternoon — and still being there three waitress shifts and eight hours later — we sent an emissary a few doors up to the Stinking Rose for take-out bagna cauda to bring back to the bar.

It’s nothing more than good olive oil, a mountain of garlic and a few anchovy fillets. (I omit the butter they include in Italy; it’s utterly unnecessary.) But something miraculous that I can only compare to alchemy occurs when these three ingredients have sat in an enameled iron pot on the lowest temperature possible for three or four hours. The garlic, so potent a short time ago, becomes buttery and subtle, infused with the salty complexity of the anchovy, which disappears into the mix. The olive oil succumbs to the sweet golden seduction of the aglio, ceding its silky nobility to the greater grandeur of the whole.

In Italy they like to serve it hot (the “caudo” part, “bagna” means “bath”), and dip raw vegetables (those crudites, back again!) into it. I prefer to serve it warm and dip crusty bread, ala the Stinking Rose.

*   *   *

Bagna Cauda

3 heads garlic (look for heads with firm, fat cloves)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large fillets anchovy (or six small fillets, or 1 tsp. anchovy paste)
1 baguette or loaf of ciabatta

Break up heads of garlic and peel cloves. (Discard small cloves.) There are garlic-peeling kitchen gadgets out there, but I just gently press against them with the flat part of a large knife until the skins pop.

When all garlic cloves are peeled, place them in a small heavy pot (I like to use my small Le Creuset sauce pot) with olive oil and anchovies. Place pot over lowest possible heat, and cook for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until garlic has assumed the consistency of butter at room temperature. Once the bagna cauda is cooked, you can turn it off and leave sitting on the stove as long as you’d like, reheating slightly just before serving. Pour into a small dish and serve warm with crusty bread. (I like guests to be able to tear pieces off rather than slicing the bread.)

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 02:29:27

    How similar or different is this method from confit?


    • scolgin
      Mar 15, 2011 @ 02:50:10

      Same concept. Have you seen it as “garlic confit”? (In which case, that’s probably just easier to pronounce than bagna cauda.)


      • paul
        Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:02:26

        No, I haven’t seen it as such named but I immediately thought of the same concept. I wonder how good it might be with some duck fat blended with the olive oil. Man, there is no end to what folks might do with a wide open cooking palette. 8^)

  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 03:55:25

    I want that when we come there.


  3. Noel
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:23:38

    Mmmmmm! Thanks for sharing, I am gong to try making this soon!



  4. Asha
    Mar 21, 2011 @ 01:30:31

    Wow I can’t wait to try this recipe! I just transcribed my grandmother’s version of Bagna Cauda on my blog last week and happened to stumble across this one. I only had sardines in the house, but I have anchovies now, and your recipe looks super yummy!


  5. CarloFuda
    Dec 11, 2016 @ 14:36:52

    I spent half of my life in Piemonte – Italy’s gem hidden behind the popular tourist destinations of Rome, Florence, and Venice. Freaking awesome. I’ve never had a version without cream in it – interested to try this (and let’s face it, less fat without all the cream). Also, check out my garlic hack…it works EVERY time.


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