A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping out an inspiring Montreal Chef with a dinner he put on as part of a tour for his cookbook. We made a bunch of really beautiful food that was creative, exciting and rustic all at the same time. It was the way that he served his veg that knocked my socks off though.
Usually (often, anyway) vegetables are a bit of an afterthought in the fancy cooking world. When you try to order vegetarian in nicer restaurants, you often wind up with pasta or risotto and not a lot of actual vegetables (trying to order vegan can be even sadder). Things are changing though, and not only are awesome plant-based restaurants popping up everywhere, but non-plant-focused Chefs seem to be embracing actual vegetables in a way that you definitely wouldn’t have seen 7-10 years ago.
This particular Chef created a version of a sauce called a ‘bagna cauda’, (pronounced ‘ban-ya cow-da) (I’m pretty close to fluent in Italian now) (all the important words anyway) which translates loosely to warm bath. It was rich and mellow and warm and loved the veggies enough to not overpower them but actually give them super powers. His version (and the classic version) contained a hint of anchovy, lots of garlic, cream, butter and the oyster ‘jus’ from the baked oysters that were also on the menu.
He roasted/steamed rustic-sized pieces of vegetables and lay them out on a platter, all spread out in a meticulously haphazard-seeming way. He then generously ladled the warm sauce over top of the hot veggies and each table (of four) got a platter like this to share with their main course. And despite being a multi-course menu full of rich and delicious food, everybody ate their veggies. Like, all of them.
This bagna cauda-bathed vegetable platter still hadn’t left my mind when I spotted a version of it on the menu when I was out for dinner at a new Italian restaurant in my neighborhood last week. I’m lucky to have a husband who loves veggies more than anybody I know, so he was happy to order the mountain of raw/fresh and steamed veggies that came with a different, olive oil-based version of bagna cauda served as a fondue (minus the stick forks) (a glass of prosecco told me it was ok to use my fingers). Where had this been all of my life, and why was I just discovering it now?!
I really wanted to create a less special occasion version of it (in case you waned to make it a bi-weekly event) (you might). My version is cream-based (from macadamia nuts and cashews) (I would say it’s in the style of Northern Italy, but I doubt that’s where cashews or macadamias grow).
With lots of garlic, cauliflower (shhhhhhh), dulse (a great anchovy sub that gives that hint of seafood taste while delivering a massive serving of minerals) and a kombu broth (more minerals, major umami flavour). It is really easy to make and your veggies will love it.
You can serve it ladled over your warm veggies like the Chef at the dinner did, or you can serve it in a fondue pot or over a tea light with a mixture of raw and cooked veggies like they did at the restaurant, both are pretty fun.
You can also toss it with steamed greens or broccoli, pour it over a dish of cauliflower and bake it or toss with warmed zucchini noodles -it just loves and wants to be with all veggies. If you (your kids, the people you eat with) are going through a veggie rough patch, this awesome sauce is sure to get you back on track.
So, I didn’t get this recipe to you in time for Valentine’s Day, but it is terribly romantic, and I recommend V-tines 2.0 next weekend with this bagna cauda shared fondue-style. Even if it is a solo, self-love adventure, what’s more romantic than creatively served fun food with more veggies than you can pack into a smoothie?
- ½ c Macadamia Nuts, soaked for 8 hours, drained and rinsed
- ½ c Cashews, soaked for 8 hours, drained and rinsed
- 1.5 c Cauliflower, chopped
- 1 tsp Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 5 Garlic Cloves, minced
- 1 Kombu sheet
- 3 c Water
- ¼ c Dulse, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Lemon Juice
- ¼ c Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
- Sea(weed) Salt to taste
- Celery Root
- Swiss Chard
- Bok Choy
- Radishes (red, French, black, watermelon etc)
- Belgian Endive
- Bok Choy
- Bring the water to a boil, add the kombu, let simmer for a couple of minutes, turn the heat off and let steep for 30 minutes or so and strain.
- Put the coconut oil and garlic in a pot and turn the heat on (medium-ish) and sauté.
- Once it becomes fragrant, add the strained kombu water and cauliflower and simmer until the cauliflower is cooked.
- Transfer to a blender (be careful, you can wait for it to cool first or do it in smaller batches).
- Add the soaked nuts and lemon juice and blend until very smooth. Adjust the seasoning.
- Pour back into the pot, add the dulse and reheat.
- Right before serving, add the fresh parsley (the lemon juice and heat with turn it brown if you leave it for too long)
- Ladle the warmed sauce over warm, cooked veggies, serve in a butter warmer/small fondue pot and serve with a mixture of raw and cooked room temp veg, serve as a dip for steamed artichoke, pour over asparagus or your fave wilted greens, or a veggie-topped quinoa bowl. Or basically anywhere else. Seriously.
- This freezes well too.