I first realized the power of the pungent one night in high school. As a cheerleader I had just reported for duty court side at the basketball game. “What is that smell?” cried one of fellow cheerleaders. Taking a gentle sniff under my arm, not noticing anything unusual, I didn't imagine it to be me. I shrugged my shoulders and went on cheering, jumping up and down, sweating away in my cheer-leading uniform sweater.
“Oh my God! There it is again!” another whispered as we posed in pyramid form at half-time. Finally one of the girls leaned in toward me, took a big long deep whiff, and yelled, “Nina! It's you! You reek!” I had completely forgotten about the bagna cauda making session with my dad just a couple of hours prior.
Bagna cauda is a buttery, rich blend of garlic, butter, anchovies and cream. Cooking with my dad I'd stand over an electric skillet sauteing heaps of fresh chopped garlic in butter, then adding anchovies and heavy cream. Slowly stirring the mix over low heat the ingredients would transform into a rich, pungent hot dip, to be served with Italian bread and fresh vegetables in our local family-owned tavern.
Stand over the heat long enough you become one with the garlic, the smell and the taste. You are the garlic. The garlic is you. Just don't go off cheerleading after making it, as I did on that fateful night. I kept the vampires at bay. But I didn't gain any fans with the cheerleaders or basketball players for that matter. Hmm . . thinking about it now, maybe it was my dad's plan to keep the boys away. Such is the power of the pungent.
Take on the power of the pungent yourself, kick your blood circulation into high gear and boost your immune system. Start with the bagna cauda recipe using fresh spring garlic or regular. Leave out the butter and cream. Add the olive oil and lemon.
Nina's Bagna Cauda (in honor of Henry Zippay)
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons) or ¼ cup finely chopped spring garlic, bulb and stem (if in season)
2-3 ounces finely chopped anchovy fillets (packed in olive oil)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (have extra on the side in case you need more)
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Sea salt (to taste)
Mash garlic and anchovies with tablespoon of olive oil into smooth paste, using mortar and pestle or food processor. Add paste to saucepan with olive oil. Simmer over stove until creamy base is formed. Add lemon juice and salt. Dip Italian bread, purple cabbage, and other crunchy vegetables into bagna cauda and enjoy.