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Elda's bagna cauda — pungent anchovy dip

Last year Geoff and I visited Mario and Luisa at the end of October. The Dolcetto grapes had been harvested in early September (this is always the most precocious variety) and the alcoholic fermentation was just about complete. This is an always exciting moment, a time, as we move towards the end of the old year, to taste the new! So Mario went down to the cellar (it's just below the house, so very handy) and poured out directly from the stainless steel fermentation vat a foaming, frothing jug of new Dolcetto wine. It was a vivid bright purple and still smelled of fermentation and yeast, but it was delciously vivid and exciting.

"We always taste the new Dolcetto," he explained, "with Bagna Cauda - a rich, pungent anchovy and garlic mixture that we serve as a dip with vegetables and bread - the new wine is high in acidity and goes perfectly with this rich dish. Bagna cauda and Dolcetto: it's a tradition."

Elda's bagna cauda
Some recipes for this Piedmontese classic are unnecessarily complicated, including cream or even truffle paste. Elda's is at once simple and delicious. The key is to cook the garlic first in water and vinegar to draw out its hotness.

4 heads (yes whole heads, not cloves!) of garlic
300 g of anchovies (best are 'sotto sale' - sold in Italy loose - but good quality anchovies in oil will also be fine
About 100 ml olio extra vergine di oliva
1/2 wineglass of white wine vinegar

Selection of raw and cooked vegetables (see below)

Peel the garlic cloves, cut each in half and remove the middle bit (this can be bitter). Place in a saucepan, add water and a half a glass of white wine vinegar. Bring to the simmer and cook gently for about 20 minutes. The garlic should be nice and soft and all the harsh flavours will be cooked out.

Transfer to another saucepan (traditionally this should be a terracotta pot that can go over a gas flame). Over the lowest flame, add the cleaned and rinsed (if using 'sotto sale') or drained anchovies together with the olive oil (add 100ml first and see if you need more). Mix well with a wooden spoon and continue to cool very slowly, stirring and mashing the anchovies and garlic to amalgamate into a thick creamy consistency. Add a spoonful or two
of water or a little more olive oil if the sauce gets too thick.

Meanwhile prepare the vegetables: carrots cut into sticks, strips of red, yellow and green pepper, strips of fennel, roasted onions, boiled potatoes, roasted beetroot, tomatoes - anything at all.

When ready to serve, keep the bagna cauda hot at the table perhaps by placing the pot over a fondue burner. Ladle the sauce over the vegetables or simply dip into the pot and eat with your fingers.

Wine: Accompany with copious quantities of Mario's Dolcetto d'Alba


Copyright Marc Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved
Images copyright Kim Millon 2005-2009 All rights reserved

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