With the harvest, the autumn starts, the season in which mist appears in the hills of Monferrato, bright with colors and bare of bunches.
Whether it was to warm up a little in the evening, or to counter the melancholy that takes hold from shorter days, or perhaps to get used to staying at home in view of the cold season, the fact is that this is the season in which we find ourselves in company to eat a typical dish of the peasant tradition: the bagna càuda.
Bagna càuda is a preparation based on garlic and desalted and boned anchovies, cooked over low heat in extra virgin olive oil, reducing everything to sauce.
It was brought to the table in the terracotta cooking pan, and kept at temperature by means of an earthenware warmer filled with live embers.
A work of culinary art that, to be truly enjoyed, must be known in its very simple but extraordinary ingredients. Anchovies, first of all. Fished in the Ligurian Sea, the best were considered those of the Gulf of Tigullio, of Monterosso in particular. With his precious cargo crammed in salt, shouting “Women! Beautiful Anchovies … ” the anchovy crossed the village and the women left the house, greeted him and approached to buy a few pounds.
Red anchovies, so named for the color their meat takes on after perfect, prolonged salting, matured for at least one year. To avoid ready-made fillets in jars.
An association of anchovies from Valle Maira is also still active. Anchovies, thanks to the itinerant anciué who transported them in barrels or in large and colorful cans of 10 and more kilos, could be purchased by peasant families in small weekly quantities.
Apart from the seafarers, only in Monferrato and in the Langhe are there those who appreciate and value anchovies: in the houses they are never lacking and with their “bagnetto” (the sauce to embellish them) green or red, or in oil or still with a little butter, they were often the only course of a dinner: poor food but able to cheer up.
The other ingredient is garlic, which arrived in the kitchens without having to “make the leap” to the Apennines: they grow it in Monferrato. Wisely collected in braids that were authentic weaving masterpieces, it was hung by the fireplace and from there a head was detached, chopped or shredded and each dish acquired the scent and flavor of delicious food. And, finally, oil. This too came from Liguria and was exchanged for our wine: five liters of wine for one liter of oil.
It is all an exchange of lands, peoples, cultures that contributes to setting up a table offered to friends and companions: poor foods, we would say today, but rich in humanity and capable of creating a real celebration.
Bagna Cauda should be kept at a high temperature, but it must not fry and smoke. It is eaten by dipping raw autumn vegetables, among which the protagonists are the highly white thistle, the “gobbo” of Nizza Monferrato and raw or roasted pepper.
Followed by raw cabbage, baked red beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke, boiled potato, savoy cabbage, endive or escarole hearts, spring onions, boiled cauliflower and any other vegetable you want to try. All autumn vegetables are fine, but many gourmets avoid more aromatic ones like celery or fennel.
The pepper is present both fresh “cut into small ribs” and in the pickled version.
The Asti Delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, on 7 February 2005, registered the recipe as the one “to be considered the most reliable and passable”.
There is a behavioral “etiquette” of the Bagna Cauda eater which prohibits, for example, excessively “loading” their bite using cabbage leaves or other pieces of vegetables as a scoop, collecting too much “rich” part of the sauce. It is also inconvenient to dip pieces of vegetables that have already been bitten, or bread which, if soaked, would remove dishonest quantities.
The newbies of the Bagna pay attention to the first bites, get burn is very frequent.
In many cases, the final rite involves slowly cooking a scrambled chicken or quail egg in the still hot stove, which can be enriched with a “little scratch” of white truffle.
Bagna càuda is a dish that cannot really be tasted out of the land of Monferrato, out of that world that designed and created it, however here you can find our amazing variations brought to you directly from our region here!
Everyone dips together in a happy and vociferous confusion: there are no shifts or other formalisms to respect, but be careful, when you get into the office the next day, your colleagues may not appreciate your garlic scent!