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A Warm Bath for Fall

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As the weather gets cooler, it's time to dig out those old fondue pots

Okay. Where in the hell did summer go? Was it our long winter, our mild June and early July, or fewer cars than usual that have so many of us thinking summer was especially short this year? I guess the only saving grace is that fall in northern Idaho can be glorious in its own right. And, as the light dwindles and the temperatures dip, I start to think of warming comfort foods, especially the grand European hot dips and fondues. One of my favorites is bagna cauda - literally, ‘hot bath’ in Italian. Bagna cauda is a flavorful dip the Italians in Piedmont typically eat to celebrate the fall wine harvest, when the heartiness of the garlic and olive oil dip paired with a young, brash red wine combat the brisk temperatures.

Bagna cauda is an easy-to-make warm dip that has three main ingredients: olive oil, plenty of garlic and anchovies. Yes, anchovies. Don’t stop reading. The anchovies blend in with the oil and garlic to make a rich dip that is not overly “fishy.” Served warm in a bowl, you dip raw vegetables into the dip and eat, sort of like an Italian fondue. I like to use hearty, thickly sliced, country bread as a “plate” that travels under the veggies on the way to my mouth, thereby catching any extra dip. Once the bread is sufficiently soggy, I consume it with abandon and get a new plate.

For vegetables, they can really be anything, but typically, I use carrots, red pepper, blanched broccoli, artichokes (if available and nice)  and mushrooms. I let color and freshness be my guide.

The Italians favor the cardoon, but we seldom see the cardoon up here, and I am not a huge fan. Recently, I have added meat to the veggie array, grilling a flank steak, and slicing. This can be served cold, hot or at room temperature.

In between bites, of course, you must have something to drink, and the richness of the dip practically begs for a big youthful red wine long on tannins. Chianti or barbera would be splendid, but so would a young California Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel, or even a nice Pinot Noir from Washington or Oregon. Because bagna cauda is a self-serve affair, it is wonderful dinner party food - if you can convince your guests to get past the anchovy issue. It is great party fare, because all of the preparation can be done in advance, it has a vegetarian option, is relatively cost-effective, and I don’t know, when you mix garlic and red wine, good things seem to happen.

To make bagna cauda is simple. I will not walk you through how to cut vegetables, because if you can’t handle that, you need more help than I can provide. For the dip, I am going to guesstimate, because I normally “eyeball” it. But, once you taste, you can always adjust for more garlic, etc.

I start with about three-quarters of a cup of virgin olive oil. Warm the oil over medium heat. Add about eight cloves minced garlic. Let this warm on low heat for about 10 minutes. You do not want to brown the garlic, but rather cook it in the oil and let it mellow.

Next, add one tin of anchovies roughly chopped - or even better - salt packed anchovies that have been soaked in oil. The anchovies will dissolve in the oil. Cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now, my trick, add about half a cup of heavy cream or half & half. This helps bind the sauce together and mellow out any harsh flavors. Whisk this until it is a milky white beauty. Keep warm and serve when you are ready. Once you are seated, the sauce will eventually get cold- no big deal, throw it back in the pot and warm it up again.

I recently bought a cheap mini fondue pot with a votive candle underneath to help keep it warm.  Italian tradition says that the last of the sauce be scrambled with eggs, so go for it, it’s bath time

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Duke Diercks Duke Diercks is the owner of Duke’s Cowboy Grill in Ponderay. Visit his blog at www.bbq-recipes-for-foodies.com

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