Bagna Cauda – A Piedmontese tradition

Bagna Cauda (‘hot bath” or “hot dip”)

Illustration of Nana in gardenWhile attending a cooking school at Tenuta di Cappezzana near Florence, Italy over twenty years ago we discovered for ourselves puntarelle and other chicories, cardi (cardoon), and other garden vegetables and began propagating them in our garden.

 The cardoon soon had our full attention.

 Sometimes referred to as “high maintenance”, we revere the processes associated with cultivation and preparation of the cardoon.

 In our search for cardoon seeds, we searched for seed packets all over Florence. Not being fluent in Italian, we were not having any luck finding “cardi” seeds. One morning, while attending the market in the Piazza St. Spirito, across the river Arno in Florence, a nice stranger overheard our conversation at the seed store. He helped translate our request to the shop keeper…we wanted “carrrrrdi” (emphasize the trill of the “r”), not “cardi”. Success!!!

 Italian methods for growing cardoon sometime include blanching. Pictured are cardoons wrapped in newspapers and bags in a home garden. The larger scale production of the Cardi

Cardoons covered for winter.

Cardoons covered for winter.

Gobbi di Nizza Monferrato involves mechanically heaving up the soil in the rows of cardoon, forcing the plant to bend slightly under the soil, as it continues to reach for sunlight. This practice keeps the inner stalks tender and delicious. Cardoon grown in this manner is eaten raw in many dishes. This type of cardoon is also known as the “hunchback” cardoon, as pictured in the Nana Cardoon logo.

 Cardoon is a very old Mediterranean vegetable…some sources quoting it as the leaf in Corinthian architecture. We are especially fond of traditional peasant dishes from Italy and France. The smallest amount of ingredients, harvested at the peak of nutrition and freshness, served simply, combine to create taste memories…something that people long to return to time and time again.

One of our favorite ways of celebrating the cardoon is Bagna Cauda. Pictured below are three ingredients in the recipe we use. Our thanks to Gianluigi Peduzzi for the traditional terra cotta warmer used at table for the Bagna Cauda, and to his company, Rustichella d’Abruzzo, for the best anchovies available.

At table, for Italian fall-themed dinners, we begin with Bagna Cauda service. Each guest has their own personal warmer, into which they dip cardoon pieces, pepper slices, and other seasonal vegetable slices. The vegetable slices are dipped in the warm anchovy, garlic, olive oil mixture, and usually held over a piece of rustic bread, which is then consumed, or used to mop up the last tasty drop.

Bon Gusto!

Serves 4-6 people as a first course or appetizer

  • 3/4 ​cup         extra-virgin olive oil*
  • 4    ​TB            (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 8-10               garlic cloves, minced to a fine, paste-like texture
  • 10-12             anchovy fillets, oil-packed preferred
  • 8-10  ​cups    assorted raw vegetables, such as fennel, sweet bell pepper, endive and radicchio, trimmed and cut into 3″ – 4″pieces
  • 4  stalks of cardoon, trimmed, cut into 4″ pieces and cooked in acidulated water until tender
  • coarse, country-style bread, cut into approx 1/2″ slices

Preparation

In a saucepan over low heat, gently warm the olive oil with finely minced garlic and anchovies which should “melt”  in to oil and will provide a wonderful flavor. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t rush it. Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter.

Bagna Cauda ingredients

Bagna Cauda ingredients

Pour the oil mixture in to a warmer (again, gentle please). Pass vegetables and bread slices. As your guests dip the vegetables into the flavored oil they can use the bread to catch the drips.

Use a high quality extra virgin olive oil with a harvest date no older than 12 months.  Your oil should taste and smell fresh, not rancid. This is a country dish often served in the fields in the fall and winter months to vineyard folks as they did the hard work of pruning.