What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.
Of all the fish that I don’t go out of my way for, anchovies tend to reside in the outermost reaches of edibility. In normal circumstances. But there was the time in a little corner of Provence, in the department of Var, in the commune of Bargemon, of an afternoon spent on a tree-canopied patio with cherished friends……a platter of Crudités with an anchovy dip was presented. Historically, I had given the anchovy its fair share of trials and condemned it. Vile in the caesar. A vexation on pizza. Nix the pasta. As a self-confessed ‘misanchovist’, my expectations were in negative territory. I could have passed. But hey. I got caught up in the ambiance, the fabulous light, the voluptuous air, all this conviving……it was a perfect setup. Like a timorous non-swimmer, I made my move. I waded in and what do you know. Enchanté! I went back for more, and more again. Pretty darned good! For such an agreeable reaction, it might have taken a place on my food preference index, but I hardly thought about it afterwards. I think I made it once after we got home and it was nice enough.
Recently I revisited this Crudités with anchovy sauce thing. Perhaps it’s because of the humid soup we find ourselves in this summer which leaves us depleted of our fundamental culinary programming. This combined with the current profusion of premium vegetables at the farmers’ markets are catalyst enough for another round of Bagna Cauda as it is called in France (and in Italy where it originated). It means ‘hot bath’ and is traditionally served over heat, fondue style. Raw vegetables are dipped into a pool of olive oil which has been simmered with smashed garlic and anchovies. Toasted bread (grilled would be even better) accompanies in order to catch the drippings as it makes the return trip from the center of the table.
A real connoisseur might insist on salted anchovies, but I’m not there yet. And there is some controversy regarding the addition of butter and/or cream. Fennel and celery are classic pairings for this. Radishes, endive, peppers, and cauliflower also combine well. I love green beans here too, and prefer them blanched (dunked briefly into boiling water).
Recipe: Bagna Cauda
10 to 12 anchovies packed in oil
4 to 5 large cloves of garlic
½ to ¾ c olive oil
a whole lot of fresh vegetables
Smash the anchovies and garlic together in a mortar and pestle, or buzz in a small food processor. Heat together with the olive oil on medium heat, stirring now and then, for 15 minutes. I have seen recipes that call for only heating for a few minutes, but I think the longer cooking helps to tame the fish as well as develop the irresistible umami aspect.
It never achieves a homogeneous consistency and that’s okay. Just be sure to scoop up some of the garlic and anchovy bits lying around at the bottom.
In this weather I think it unnecessary to keep it over heat at the table. So I would dispense with the fondue flame.
Surround the dip on a platter with an assortment of fresh vegetables and toasted or grilled bread. This would serve 6 as a first course, or 3 to 4 for lunch.
A BUTTERFLY MAINTAINS ELEGANCE, NO MATTER THE HEAT…..