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My friend Jessica Theroux recently published her first cookbook, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers (pictured below). To prepare for this book, Jessie -- as I knew her in both high school and college -- spent most of 2003 in Italy cooking with a dozen different nonnas, compiling their stories and best recipes. The book provides a glimpse into the lives of 12 Italian women with distinct culinary traditions and specialties, each chapter organized by the name of the particular nonna in question and punctuated with tales of Jessie's own adventures during her year abroad.
The recipes range from the familiar (Risotto alla Milanese; Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Olive Oil) to the eye-opening (Buckwheat Noodles with Cabbage, Potato and Mountain Cheese; Sourdough Pancakes with Marmellata). Many are accompanied by bold, rich photographs, and all are ultimately approachable -- as good, authentic Italian cooking so often is. Last week, I tried my hand at Nonna Irene's Bagna Cauda, a relatively simple affair that involves blanching three heads worth of garlic cloves before pulverizing and simmering them gently with anchovies and olive oil. I'll admit that up until now now, bagna cauda (which means "warm bath" in Italian) has never been at the top of my list due to its often overwhelming pungency and my relative intolerance to "fishy" fish. (There, I said it.)
But when I dredged a piece of blanched asparagus through the little copper pot of Irene's bagna cauda, the silky dip clung to the spear in the most seductive way, and I was won over by the rush of flavors: mellow, sweet and briny all at once, with just the right ratio of anchovy to garlic and oil. This is a bagna cauda for me, and I trust you'll enjoy it too.
Note: Cooking with Italian Grandmothers is nominated for an IACP award in the "First Book" category this year. Congratulations, Jessie!
Bagna Cauda (Piedmontese Warm Garlic-Anchovy Dip)
Adapted from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
Serves 6 as an appetizer
- 3 whole heads garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
- 1 cup olive oil
- 5 anchovy fillets, rinsed if salted and finely chopped
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Spring veggies for serving (I used a combination of radishes, blanched asparagus and boiled fingerlings)