Monday, May 9, 2011
Crudités platters tend to bore me. Quite honestly I can't imagine anyone getting very excited over sticks of supermarket vegetables and "white dip," not to mention that serving raw cruciferous vegetables should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Don't get me wrong, fresh veggies are a welcome addition to any party table but let's be honest, that same old, sorry tray just isn't bringing it.
Then about a month ago I was planning a dinner party that took on a Northern Italian theme. Instead of serving the usual green salad after the entree, I thought it would be fun to start the meal with bagna cauda, a Piedmontese crudités platter. I had read about it multiple times and thought that if anything could change my crudités attitude, it was this.
Bagna cauda literally means "warm bath." Garlic and anchovies are slowly warmed in olive oil until the salty fish dissolves and the oil is completely infused with flavor. It is then served in a dish over a candle (think fondue) with an assortment of raw and cooked vegetables for dipping. Although cardoons (a vegetable resembling celery but tasting of artichoke) and Jerusalem artichokes are traditional accompaniments, pretty much any seasonal produce can be used.
In the Piedmont region of Italy, this fragrant dish was traditionally served as a warming snack in late Autumn and early winter to the chilled vineyard workers out pruning the vines. It tastes best, according to experts, with the new season's wine and a convivial atmosphere.
By the way, I now adore crudités platters.
Some recipes emphasize the olive oil while others call for larger proportions of butter. This preparation uses both in a wonderful balance but can be tweaked to personal taste.
3/4 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
One 2-ounce can oil-packed anchovy fillets (about 12 fillets), chopped
3 tablespoons butter
Salt, if needed
Assortment of raw and blanched vegetables for dipping
In a small saucepan heat the olive oil, garlic and anchovies over medium-low for 6-8 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the anchovies have dissolved and the mixture looks muddy. Add the butter and whisk until melted. Taste and sprinkle in a bit of salt if necessary. Pour into a serving dish, ideally one that fits over a flame (but not necessary) and serve with crudites.