Bagna Cauda

published Dec 20, 2021
christmas
Bagna Cauda Recipe

This traditional dish from the Piedmont region on Italy translates to "warm bath" and is a boldly flavored warm dip made from lots of garlic and anchovies.

Serves4 to 6

Makesabout 1 1/4 cups

Prep20 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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veggies being dipped into bagna cauda
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jacqueline Tris

Bagna cauda, the warm garlic and anchovy dip from the Piedmont region of Italy, fills me with an instant rush of happy memories anytime I eat it. It was one of the first traditional dishes I tasted when I arrived in the region for graduate school many years ago, at a feast shared among my fellow classmates, and it continues to be a ritual I love sitting down to as soon as the temperature drops. It’s a pungent, salty, luxurious creation, best served with bright Piedmontese wine for sipping.

Where Is Bagna Cauda From? How Do You Pronounce It?

Bagna cauda, pronounced baan-yuh kow-duh, hails from the northwestern region on Piedmont, Italy. It translates to “hot bath” and is exactly that: A bubbling hot dip made from garlic, anchovies, and olive oil for both raw and cooked vegetables to bathe in.

What Does Bagna Cauda Taste Like?

With an entire head of garlic and a couple dozen anchovies, bagna cauda is hardly shy — but it’s not as overpowering as you might imagine. That’s because the garlic cloves are poached first, which softens and rounds their flavor. My Piedmontese friend taught me to use milk as the poaching liquid, but water can be substituted for a dairy-free dip. When the poached cloves are gently simmered with olive oil and anchovies, the anchovies melt and soften in flavor, too.

Just before serving, I like to add a splash of the garlic-infused milk to the bagna cauda, which lends a touch of creaminess. Some recipes add butter instead, but it’s a hotly debated ingredient among locals and one I was personally taught to skip.

How to Serve Bagna Cauda

Bagna cauda is traditionally served out of a terracotta pot that looks a bit like a fondue pot. The dip is poured into the upper bowl and a tea light is lit underneath to keep it hot and bubbling. You can also use a small fondue pot, if you have one, or simply pour the dip into a bowl. There are a wide variety of choices when it comes to what to dunk into bagna cauda, but here are a few of the most classic options, as well as my personal favorites.

  • Raw or roasted bell pepper slices
  • Cardoon sticks
  • Fennel slices
  • Belgian endive or radicchio leaves
  • Celery sticks
  • Cauliflower, broccoli, or romanesco florets
  • Small boiled potatoes

If you have leftovers, toss bagna cauda with pasta, fold some into scrambled eggs or fry the eggs directly in the dip, use it as a salad dressing, or drizzle it over roasted meat, fish, or vegetables.

Bagna Cauda Recipe

This traditional dish from the Piedmont region on Italy translates to "warm bath" and is a boldly flavored warm dip made from lots of garlic and anchovies.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 head

    garlic (12 to 15 cloves)

  • 1 cup

    whole milk or water

  • 25

    good-quality oil-packed anchovies, such as Agostino Recca, from 2 (3.3-ounce) jars or 2 (2-ounce) tins

  • 3/4 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • For serving: bell pepper slices, cardoon sticks, fennel slices, Belgian endive leaves, celery sticks, cauliflower florets, small boiled potatoes, or a combination

Instructions

  1. Gently smash and peel 1 head of garlic. Place the cloves and 1 cup whole milk or water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom. Reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently, stirring frequently, until the garlic is softened and easily smashed with the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 minutes.

  2. Drain the garlic through a fine-mesh strainer set over a liquid measuring cup if using milk (if using water, just strain out the water). Rinse the pot well with hot tap water to remove any milk residue and wipe it dry.

  3. Return the garlic to the saucepan and add 25 anchovies and 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very fragrant, the anchovies are almost completely melted, and the garlic is so soft it’s falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.

  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved milk, if using. Purée directly in the saucepan with an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternatively, transfer to a stand blender and purée until smooth.) Serve hot with raw and cooked vegetables.The bagna cauda will begin to separate a bit as it sits, so just give it a good stir occasionally with a spoon or whatever vegetable you’re dipping into it.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The bagna cauda can be made a day ahead of time and reheated over low heat on the stovetop before serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Rewarm in a saucepan over low heat until heated through, stirring to recombine and emulsify.