Bagna Cauda

I have to admit, as much as I really like cheese fondue, bagna cauda is probably higher on my list of fave fondue dinners to be had with friends.

Rewind a few years ago — one summer’s night, possibly autumn (I can’t recall exactly, you can go through the archives and find the specific evening I am referring to), the bunch of us decided to get together and finally have dinner at The Grizzly House. It’s fantastic fun, not to mention greasy as all hell from the ridiculous numbers of diners partaking in oil fondues. The only problem is that it’s also a rather expensive night out to be had even if you’ve planned in advance for it.

One of the most memorable things that everyone took away from that evening, that always sticks out in everyone’s minds, when we talk about The Grizzly House, is the bagna cauda. If you love garlic and are willing to have your spouse smell just as garlicky as you do when you go to bed that night, this is the best meal to be had.

In my opinion, fondue (of all kinds) is probably one of the best meals spent around a table with good friends, with good food, and good conversation. In fact, I think the main purpose of fondue is for you to intentionally slow down and catch up with people you care about. It’s just a meal that becomes so incredibly satisfying — it feeds your heart, your soul and your stomach. Cheesy, aren’t I? ^_-

Anyhow, I’ve written about the bagna cauda recipe a couple of times and I’ve found that each time we make it, we’ve discovered tastier ways to consume it. The first bagna cauda night was back on New Year’s Eve; it was just a five of us and we didn’t really have many dunkables since it was our first go at the recipe. Our second run at it was for the annual Robbie Burns night party at J & R‘s and it was a huge success with the whole gang in attendance. That was the first time we made the full recipe, but the nibbly options were still pretty sparse since I didn’t do the selecting of dunkables.

Tonight, however… Tonight was absolutley phenomenal. As per usual, I over provided. There was enough food to comfortably feed six people. I am now familiar with how much food to buy that will feed six people for fondue in the future. In the end it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the leftovers will amply provide D & K with at least a good meal or two to be eaten sometime later in the next few days so they won’t have to cook. Being new parents is still taking its toll and they could use an easy meal or two that requires no real thinking or prep work.

I don’t know why, but it gives me warm fuzzies knowing that I am preparing a meal that my friends (and family) are eagerly anticipating. Standing there in D & K‘s kitchen doing the prep work while chatting away with K and occassionally telling her what she needed to do to help was a really great evening for me. It was the same as when I made Thanksgiving dinner with J last month — the companionship, the conversation, the sharing of knowledge, all of it, it makes me incredibly happy and grateful that we have friends to do this with.

This meal, compared to Thanksgiving, is of course a lot less taxing on my energy reserves seeing as it’s technically all prep with practically no cooking involved. Most of it’s just washing and chopping veggies, a little bit of blanching if the veggies are harder, and then setting them into serving bowls. Other than that, I only needed to be peeling lots of garlic (2 heads! Ya. Rly.) and dumping it into my mini-chopper until I had a nice coarse mince, and then opening and blitzing 4 cans of anchovies and mashing 3 tins of sardines. All of that was dumped into my incredibly lovely fondue pot along with 1 1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil and 1 cup butter to be melted into one incredibly thick, heady, fragrant and intoxicating bath. Since my fondue pot’s electric, I just put all the ingredients in at the same time and let it get all melty together as opposed to heating everything up on the stove beforehand and transferring it when it’s time to eat.

As to our dipping options for the night? I bought SO many vegetables and I’m really pleased at the selections I made:

Red & Yellow Peppers, sliced into batons
Carrots, sliced into wavy coins and blanched
Zucchini, cut into half moons
Kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
Sweet peas, in their pods
Belgian Endive
Grape Tomatoes
Baby Potatoes, cold roasted (leftovers)
Roasted Chicken Breast, cold
Cheese & Asparagus Ravioli, cooked al dente
French Bread

I’m am actually incredibly impressed at how well everything went with the bagna cauda. The crispness and sweetness of the peppers was incredibly refreshing to cut the oiliness of the fondue. Same thing could be said about the sweet peas and the grape tomatoes. I think I might forgo the carrots next time around, but when it comes right down to it, even they were pretty tasty when swirled around in anchovies, garlic and butter. The kale was a pleasant surprise because it had great texture to chew on. The Belgian endive’s bitterness was tempered very nicely by the bagna cauda and ended up being the most perfect vehicle to scoop up the anchovy and sardine mush at the bottom of the pot. The baby potatoes made for a nice carb/starch alternative, though they should preferably be served warm, for future reference. The roast chicken breast was bought pre-made and was a great choice because it wasn’t raw and there was no risk of eating something undercooked or “contaminating” the fondue. The ravioli was a brilliant suggestion that was recommended to me when I put out a request for fondue ideas earlier in the week. And one can never go wrong with a loaf of french bread to mop up all the wonderful goodness left on your plate.

Tonight was probably the most veggies I’ve ever eaten in one sitting and I am eagerly anticipating the next time we can do fondue night with friends… Preferably with six people in attendance ^_^

Bagna Cauda

1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 heads garlic, minced
4 (2 oz.) cans anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained
3 (4 oz.) cans sardines packed in olive oil, drained
1 cup butter

In a mini food processor, mince garlic and chop anchovies.
Place the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan and heat gently until butter’s melted.
Add the anchovies, garlic and sardines.
Mash sardines gently with a potato masher, if desired.
Cook and stir gently until well blended and frangrant, 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer to fondue pot.
Serve warm with lots of veggies and lots of bread for dipping.

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