Bagna Cauda 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.
Table of Contents
Why you'll love this recipe
Bagna càuda originates from the beautiful Piedmont region in northwest Italy. This region isn't on the typical Italian tourist route and so has mostly retained its authenticity. I'm lucky enough to have married into a Piedmontese family and have visited several times.
In Piedmont you enjoy Roasted Red Peppers with your antipasto. At the pasticceria (pastry and cake shop) select Baci di Dama or Crostoli. For dessert, definitely order Bunèt. But for the authentic Piedmontese experience you can't go past bagna càuda!
I know you'll love Bagna Càuda because it is so very tasty but there's so much more to this dish that just the taste. It's about the experience. Let me explain what's so wonderful about this dish.
Bagna càuda was created by the peasant farmers in Piedmont, many years ago. It's a communal dish that was eaten to celebrate the harvest and today it's still typical of the autumn and winter season.
This is a meal of ritual. All the diners gather around the table with a fork in one hand, a chunk of bread in the other and spear their choice of vegetable to dip into the hot bagna càuda. There are moments of pause for a sigh of contentment or to take a sip of good wine, chatter and laugh.
In Piedmont, the locals say that Bagna càuda is like an orchestra - when it starts, the old become young again. It must not be rushed. The enthusiasm of participating in such a ritual of communal eating is real and is what bagna càuda is all about.
What does Bagna Càuda taste like?
I was introduced to this recipe when I married my husband and have fallen in love with it too! Admittedly, this is a slightly unusual 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 is by no means a mild dish. Bagna cauda tastes salty, savory and garlicky.
You may be wondering - is bagna càuda fishy? No, it shouldn't be. If you use very good quality, fresh anchovies there is very little fishy taste. If it's fishy, the anchovies are old or poor quality.
Keep in mind that bagna cauda is a dip so you won't be eating it by the spoonful. The sweetness or bitterness of the each individual vegetable add to the taste of the dip.
This sauce is neither an appetizer or main dish but in the Piedmontese tradition, it stands alone as the whole meal eaten in communion with others.
For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.
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 olive oil.
- Garlic - It is tradition to use one head of garlic 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, who is from Piedmont, then it's good for me.
- Butter - Generally, there is no butter in this classic Italian sauce, however I enjoy the flavor it adds. Be sure to use unsalted butter.
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 think it make is less digestible and don't add it 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.
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.
Tips for Success and FAQ's
The key to success for this recipe is low and slow. This is really important so that the garlic and anchovies melt and meld into the oil.
Begin by chopping the garlic very finely or pound it in a mortar and pestle. If you prefer a more mild flavor, the garlic can be poached in milk until tender.
Add the garlic to cold oil and heat the oil slowly taking care not to brown the garlic. Moderate the temperature ensuring the garlic cooks very gently.
Keep the temperature low when you add the anchovies. Stir and break up them up. Once the anchovies are melted into the oil, add the butter.
Bagna càuda means "hot sauce". Bagna is the Italian word used for sauce or gravy. And càuda means "hot" in the Piedmontese dialect.
However bagna càuda is often translated as meaning a "warm bath". This is incorrect. Bath in Italian is "bagno" but "bagna" which ends in an 'a' means something completely different. Yes, it does make a difference which vowel the word ends in!
If you have leftovers, pour the dip into a container that seals well and store in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Yes! Reheat gently in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until hot.
You probably could, though I never have. Leftover bagna cauda is wonderful mixed through pasta or on pizza.
How to serve
A terracotta fujot or small pot, warmed with a candle underneath, is the traditional serving vessel. But a fondue pot in the centre of the table is a perfect substitute. It's important when serving bagna càuda that it is constantly hot, almost boiling.
Serve this sauce 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.
Wine is part of the whole experience. Choose a full bodied red wine which will stand up to the robust flavor of bagna càuda. Dolcetto d’Alba is the recommended wine but if you can't find it, a barbera which is the every day wine of Piedmont would be wonderful.
More recipes you'll love
- Italian Braised Chicken
- Ciabatta Garlic Bread
- Fagottini - ricotta filled pasta parcels
- Piedmontese Roasted Red Peppers from It's Not Complicated
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Bagna Càuda Recipe
- 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 or more extra virgin olive oil
- 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 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.
Nutritional Information Per Serving
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.