While anchovies are ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine, the western canned variety tends to be fishy and very salty, putting them in the unappetizing category for many people. As a kid, I'd dread going over to one particular friend's house because their family was quite fond of the "everything" pizza topped with those grayish brown slivers of unpleasantness.
But the truth is, anchovies in any form contain a treasure trove of umami boosting glutamates that enhances almost any dish it's added to. I've come to love these little sticks of stink, but if the fishiness bothers you, try covering it up with something. In the case of bagna càuda that "something" is lots of garlic.
Bagna càuda is a Piedmontese dip which literally means "hot sauce". Not hot as in spicy, but hot as in warm, earning its name from the long tradition of serving it in a heated pot at the table. An assortment of raw, boiled or roasted veggies are then dipped into the pot and eaten. I also like to serve it with some crusty bread to sop up some of the flavourful olive oil.
To punch of the flavor a bit, and because I'm a non-traditionalist, I add minced bacon to mine. The smokey bacon really compliments the anchovies and the lard takes some of the green edge off the olive oil. If you somehow end up with leftovers, just toss it with hot pasta and freshly chopped parsley the next day.
- Break the tough bottoms off the asparagus then peel the bottom 2/3s of the stalk. Cut the tips off the green beans. Then boil or steam them.
- Put the minced bacon in a small sauce pan over medium low heat and fry until some of the fat renders out, but not long enough for it to turn brown. Turn down the heat to low and add the garlic, anchovies and olive oil. Cook until the anchovies have dissolved into the oil and the garlic starts to brown (about 10 minutes).
- If you want to make it more creamy, whisk in about 2 Tbs of butter at the end. Add the parsley then drizzle over the asparagus and green beans or put it in a small fondue pot for dipping.