What is bagna cauda?
A seriously savoury sauce made from anchovies, garlic and olive oil, bàgna cauda is served across Italy as a warm dip, alongside crunchy raw vegetables and fresh bread. 'Bàgna cauda’ translates to ‘warm bath’, and although we’re anchovy fiends, you won’t find us taking a soak in this pungent dip anytime soon.
The key to bàgna cauda is its potency, so don’t be scared of the quantity of anchovy or garlic in this dish. Bearing in mind how few ingredients this dip has, it’s definitely worth splashing out on the best anchovies and Italian olive oil you can afford.
In Italy, bàgna cauda is usually served as a warming antipasto, often as part of a festive spread on Christmas eve. It would make an excellent starter for a proper Italian dinner party, just make sure you invite plenty of good friends (and maybe warn them that they’ll be leaving your house with a newly acquired aroma).
The origins of bagna cauda
Bàgna cauda hails from the northern Italian region of Piedmont, which interestingly, is completely landlocked. Despite this, anchovies are a staple in Piedmontese cuisine, appearing in a host of the region’s most-loved dishes. There’s a number of competing theories for how this anomaly came to be, but by far our favourite story relates to a friendly swap. The region has been a major wine producer for centuries, and the story goes that Piedmontese wine merchants used to send barrels of wine off to Venice, which would eventually return to them stuffed with salt-preserved anchovies. With their newly acquired ingredient, workers at Piedmont’s vineyards started making bàgna cauda as a warming, sustaining snack during the colder months.
Our bagna cauda recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Calories per serving: 260 kcal (not including vegetables or bread)
- Stick blender
- Fondue pot (optional)
- Whole head of garlic, peeled
- 150g high-quality anchovies in olive oil, drained and oil reserved
- 250ml whole milk
- 125ml extra virgin olive oil
- Assorted raw vegetables (washed, peeled and sliced into batons), for dipping
- Fresh bread, ideally something crusty like ciabatta
Chef’s tip: In Italy, bàgna cauda is nearly always served alongside a selection of raw vegetables, which are then dipped into the rich sauce. Crisp vegetables with bitter or sweet flavour profiles work particularly well against the saltiness of the dip. On the bitter side, celery and leaves like radicchio and endive work wonderfully, while carrot, radishes and peppers are all good options for a bit of sweetness. It’s always worth serving some fresh, crusty bread as well.
- Place the garlic cloves and milk in a saucepan, then cook over a low heat for at least 20 minutes, or until the garlic is soft.
- Drain the garlic, wipe out the saucepan, then add the garlic cloves back to the pan alongside the olive oil (reserve the garlic-infused milk as a base for soups or stews, if you’d like). Cook for 5 minutes over a low heat.
- Add the anchovies and cook for 5 minutes more, mashing everything together with the back of a wooden spoon so that the garlic and anchovies break down, but don’t brown.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and pulse using a handheld stick blender, adding some of the reserved anchovy oil to help it emulsify a little.
- Once the sauce is well combined, put it back on a low heat to keep warm (don’t worry if the dip splits a little as it settles, this is a normal part of its rustic charm).
- When you’re ready to serve, pour the bàgna cauda into a warm serving bowl (a fondue pot would be even better) and serve alongside a platter of raw vegetables and plenty of fresh bread for dipping and dunking.