Among the many gastronomic specialities of Piedmontese tradition, bagna cauda stands out as one of the most renowned, transcending regional borders.
The term “bagna cauda” is a dialectal expression that can be translated as “hot sauce”, that’s precisely what it is: a robust and flavorful sauce crafted from three fundamental ingredients: anchovies, olive oil, and garlic.
It may seem unusual to learn that anchovies are the main ingredient in a historical recipe from a landlocked region, but it is not. Indeed, anchovies feature in many preparations in the Monferrato cuisine for an exciting reason: in the past, salt was used for food preservation, and this salt was imported to Piedmont from the nearby salt flats of Provence and Nice.
The route taken by salt transporters became known as the “Strada Salis”, or the salt road, precisely: a road, already mentioned in some documents from the 13th century, that connected Provence and Nice with the first valleys of Piedmont, eventually reaching Cuneo and then Asti.
However, salt importation was subject to tariffs, significantly increasing its cost. To circumvent this problem, merchants would transport salt in barrels and use salted anchovies from the coastal stretch between Barcelona and Toulon to cover and conceal it from the view of customs officers.
The bagna cauda is typically a dish enjoyed during the cold season. Since past centuries, vine growers celebrated the end of the grape harvest, and the tapping of new wine by organizing feasts featuring vegetables dipped in this flavorful sauce. Even today, bagna cauda remains the quintessential Piedmontese dish for conviviality, prepared between autumn and winter with seasonal vegetables.
Originally, bagna cauda was served in a single terracotta container, known as a dian, placed at the centre of the table and kept warm by a terracotta heater filled with embers. All diners would then dip their vegetable pieces into the communal container. For hygienic and practical reasons, this folkloric tradition has gradually faded, replaced by the introduction of fojot (or fujot): small terracotta bowls, heated by an alcohol burner or a wax candle, distributed to each diner.
Nevertheless, indulging in bagna cauda is akin to participating in a ritual steeped in tradition, a dish modest in its preparation yet rich in history, encapsulating the essence of being Piedmontese.
Official Recipe of Bagna Cauda Registered by the Delegation of Asti of the Italian Academy of Cuisine
Bagna cauda has long been a cornerstone of Piedmontese culinary tradition, with its origins lost in the mists of time. While the exact origin of the dish remains uncertain, historical documents suggest that a similar sauce was prepared in the Lower Piedmont and Provence in the Middle Ages.
As with all dishes passed down through centuries, bagna cauda comes in various recipes, each with variations. Some add milk to make it creamier, while others omit garlic from the ingredients.
However, on February 7, 2005, the Delegation of Asti of the Italian Academy of Cuisine registered a bagna cauda recipe as “the most reliable and transmissible.”
Piero Bava played a crucial role in this effort as the Italian Academy of Cuisine delegate, personally ensuring the original bagna cauda recipe was deposited and protected from imitations. Piero’s dedication earned him the Testa d’Aj Award from the Astigiani Association in 2022.
The study commission selected this version of the bagna cauda recipe after numerous tasting sessions and comparisons. It was later deposited in Costigliole d’Asti with a registration signed by notary Marzia Krieg. Here it is:
Original Bagna Cauda Recipe
Ingredients for 12 people:
- 12 heads of garlic
- 6 wine glasses of olive oil (extra virgin) and, if possible, a small glass of walnut oil
- 600 grams of Spanish red anchovies
- Slice the peeled and germ-free garlic cloves. Place the garlic in a terracotta pot, add a glass of oil, and start cooking over very soft heat, stirring with a wooden spoon and ensuring it does not take on colour.
- Then, add the desalted, deboned, and washed anchovies in red wine and dried, stirring them gently. Cover with the remaining oil and slowly cook the mixture for about half an hour, ensuring the sauce does not fry.
- At the end of the cooking time, somebody who prefers a softer flavour can add a piece of very fresh butter.
- Pour the sauce into the traditional “fojot,” small terracotta burners, and serve it with the following vegetables: raw vegetables: cardoons from Nizza, Jerusalem artichokes, hearts of white cabbage, endive, escarole, fresh and under-grape peppers, and raw spring onions quartered and immersed in Barbera wine; cooked vegetables include red beets, boiled potatoes, baked onions, fried pumpkin, and roasted peppers.
- It is a tradition to collect the remaining sauce at the end by beating an egg into it.
Wine Pairings for Bagna Cauda
Bagna cauda is the quintessential Piedmontese dish, and it pairs best with a red wine from the region, not just any red wine, but a Piedmontese red wine complex enough to complement the bold taste of the dish. We find no better choice than a Barbera: with its acidity, Barbera will perfectly match the bagna cauda.
With such a pairing, the plate will showcase the intensity and savoriness of bagna cauda and the various flavours of the accompanying vegetables. We recommend a lightly tannic wine with good acidity in the glass will cleanse the palate, just like our Barbera d’Asti DOCG Libera.