Bagna Càuda is a flavorsome, Italian dipping sauce for vegetables and bread that is served warm.
A robust combination of garlic and anchovies, this classic recipe is from the region of Piedmont. Enjoy this meal shared with family and friends and accompanied by a glass of red wine.
This updated recipe was first published October 3, 2013.
Beautiful Piedmont is not on the typical Italian tourist route and so has mostly retained its authenticity. With many vineyards and fertile ground, wine and food is what Piedmont is known for. With antipasto, try Roasted Red Peppers. At the pasticceria (pastry and cake shop) select Baci di Dama or Crostoli. For dessert, definitely order Bunèt.
By fortune, I married into a Piedmontese family who originate from a small village. Camagna Monferrato is a sleepy, well preserved village in the heart of Piedmont. In autumn, it’s enveloped in a cool mist, making the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the traditional dish of Bagna Càuda.
What is Bagna Càuda?
I was introduced to this recipe when I married my husband and have fallen in love with it too! Admittedly, this is a slightly weird recipe. Obscene amounts of garlic mixed with anchovies, olive oil and butter. However, these four ingredients meld into an umami rich sauce that is addictive.
This sauce is neither an appetizer or main dish but in the Piemontese tradition, it stands alone as the whole meal.
As with most Italian dishes, the quality of the ingredients play a big part in the success of this recipe. There are only four ingredients and all must be of excellent quality.
- Olive oil – I use extra virgin olive oil but as long as it is decent, use your favorite.
- Garlic – It is tradition to use one head per diner. The amount you use is quite optional. I don’t use quite that much. In recent years, some cooks have been soaking or simmering the garlic in milk to reduce the potency. My family enjoys the potency but this is an option.
- Anchovies – Purists would say these must be the salted anchovies that need to be cleaned at home. However, purchase good quality bottled anchovies and all will be well. If it’s good for my mother-in-law, then it’s good for me.
- Butter – Traditionally, there is no butter in this classic Italian sauce, however I enjoy the flavor it adds. Be sure to use unsalted butter.
How to prepare
Preparation of this dish is simple. The important point to remember is to keep the temperature low and slow.
- Cook the finely chopped garlic in olive oil until softened and aromatic.
- Add anchovies.
- Continue cooking until anchovies have melted into the oil.
- Add the butter and allow to melt, stirring it well to combine.
How to serve
In the Piedmontese dialect, bagna càuda translates to “hot bath”. A terracotta fujot, warmed with a candle underneath, is the traditional serving vessel. But a fondue pot (or electric frypan) in the centre of the table is a perfect substitute.
Serve this sauce hot with vegetables and crusty bread for dipping. Choose seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, carrot, fennel, cabbage, celery and sweet peppers (capsicum). Slice into small pieces that are good for scooping up all the goodness. If you prefer, steam vegetables lightly.
Arrange vegetables on platters and bread in baskets. Place the hot sauce in the fujot or fondue pot and gather your friends and family around the table. Each diner dips in or do as we do, provide individual bowls for your guests. Pour out the red wine and enjoy!
Can this be made ahead?
Bagna Càuda is easily made ahead and refrigerated until serving. Be sure to heat thoroughly.
In recent years, some cooks have started to add a splash of cream to this sauce. While not authentic, many claim it lightens the sauce, makes it more digestible and not as potent. I don’t add cream but you may like it.
Adjust the quantity of garlic to suit your taste. Also refer above to the “Ingredients” for more options to reduce the strength of the garlic.
More recipes you’ll love
- Italian Braised Chicken
- Tear n Share Garlic Bread
- Piedmontese Roasted Red Peppers from It’s Not Complicated
- Anchovy Caper Salsa from Another Food Blogger
- Caesar Salad with White Anchovy Scotch Eggs from Jaimie Eats
- 20 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup well packed, drained anchovies in oil approx 150g, drained
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- Place the oil and garlic into a cold pan and place over a gentle flame to allow the garlic to soften but not colour, it should take 10 or 15 minutes.
- Add the anchovies.
- Allow the anchovies to melt and meld into the sauce, all the while over low heat.
- Add the butter and continue cooking over a gentle flame.
- Serve with vegetables and plenty of crusty bread to mop the oily, savory sauce.