Friday, April 13, 2012
Bagna Cauda...The ultimate try-out for Piedmontese cuisine!
Just last night I was thinking about how to start a blog dedicated to the hidden pleasures of Piemonte, wondering which topic was most noted as the first post. Wine? Art? Completely out of the way, man.
Accomplice to the bad weather looming since days over the skies of Turin, more reminiscent of autumn that spring, I had as a mind lighting: bagna cauda!
No word in the world is both reassuring and traditional for a Piedmont native and esoteric and worrying for a foreigner. Bagna cauda, meaning a fondue of olive oil, salted anchovies garlic to dip with cooked and raw vegetables: a dish absolutely authentic, old style, without the clever bastard desire to please everyone, it is quite the contrary!
This recipe should be the business card of my region, my homeland, apart from all the truffles, prized wines, Eataly, Grom, Slowfood and other commercial radical chic hustles emerged in recent years.
Bagna cauda is the synthesis of contrasts: difficult to sell in its pure form, not domesticated by adding milk, cream, tomato sauce (Yes, I know people who also add tomato sauce sic) and equally recognized as a speciality by anyone who knows a little the Piedmontese cuisine.
Bagna cauda, whose original form might derive from the Roman fish preserves, the 'garum', for which the ligurian anchovy dealers were justly famous, consists of three ingredients which can be found at any time of year and today, as in the Middle Ages (period in which the current recipe was finally setted up) at the range of pockets of the poorer peasants.
With the collapse of the Roman Empire and the demise of the factories of garum, only shepherds kept alive links between the coast and the inland regions: shepherds who, starting from Upper Langhe for transhumance, became merchants carrying back Pigato wine, olive oil amphora and last but not least salt. It was indeed salt, rather the need to avoid the heavy duties imposed by the landlords of the hills on this product, to convince the merchants to hide layers of salt in barrels filled with anchovies, of no interest for the local militias. The action of the salt preserves the fish and give it a softness and accentuates its aroma.
Here then returned the old sauce! ...now refined by a bulb that in Piedmont reaches heights of excellence (to remember the Garlic of Caraglio and Molino dei Torti, for which regional fairs are held).
His powerful but highly aromatic flavour adds dignity to the monotony of a meal once almost exclusively consisting of polenta and vegetables, sometimes cooked sometimes raw. The recipe here comes from my personal cookbook, put together by reconstructing memories of my grandmothers and the availability of seasonal vegetables of this shy and cold April.
Ingredients for 4 people
24 salted anchovies, 24 garlic cloves without the green sprout, 2 cups extra virgin olive oil, 80 g butter.
Getting to the point
Put half a cup of olive oil, a piece of butter, garlic cut into thin slices in an earthenware pan. Over low heat, bake it stirring gently until the garlic is melted to form a smooth blonde cream. At this point add the anchovies and remaining oil always stirring over low heat. The sauce is ready when the anchovies are splitted, or rather melted, giving the bagna caoda its unmistakable velvety texture, salinity and colour ranging from hazelnut to caffelatte depending on how much you have golden butter at the beginning of the preparation. The success of this recipe comes from the cooking mode that must occur by merging on low fire.
This is why you should prefer the traditional terracotta heater: the 'fujot' that below has the space for a candle or a little flame. Fujot is not an article impossible to find. Several internet sites of kitchen utensils now offer inexpensive tools.
The fujot is also the symbol of conviviality of this dish. It is great to bring to the table halfway through the cooking, and leaves to your friends the opportunity to directly dip in vegetables: cardoons raw or stir-fried, raw peppers, roasted peppers, raw and peeled or stir-fried Jerusalem artichokes, boiled but still crispy cauliflowers, oven baked onions, boiled potatoes and broiled polenta slices.
Bon aptì! (piedmontese for Enjoy!)