Thinking about garlic reminded me of a favorite dish for easy entertaining I featured almost 30 years ago after having met an Italian home cook who did amazing things with escarole … and, of course, garlic.

I recalled the concept of the Southern Italian Fondue, a communal meal, with the ingredients cooked at the table in a similar manner to a Mongolian Hot Pot. Instead of broth, though, the ingredients are submerged in garlicky oil bath — bagna calde or “hot bath.”

To the files I went, digging through for my newspaper clippings from long ago. I found the exact recipe published in April 1983 to share!

I liked this dish then, and am thinking of enjoying it with friends now, as all the prep is done ahead. Depending on your friends — and the size of your space — you might start the gathering with everyone joining in the preprep while — of course — enjoying some wine.

Once prepped, the ingredients are cooked, fondue style, at the table, in a mixture of olive oil, butter, anchovies and five whole heads – not cloves – but heads of peeled and chopped garlic. I told you this was for garlic lovers!

No need for an appetizer, and an icy sorbet is perfect for dessert; it’s a simple meal that’s sure to bring raves.

I’m sharing this recipe almost as it was written in 1983. You can, of course, change the vegetables or meat and leave out the expensive lobster or any ingredient that doesn’t suit your fancy or guests’ tastes. Be sure to have lots of crusty bread and a bottle of red wine for the evening.

Actually, I’m thinking I need to dig out an electric skillet and a vinyl tablecloth and invite some good friends to share this once again. I say “good” friends as this isn’t a budget recipe!

Anyone game?

Southern Italian Fondue
(Bagna Calde)
1 quart olive oil
1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1 T wine vinegar
3 2-ounce cans anchovies in pure olive oil
5 heads (not cloves, but whole heads) garlic, peeled and minced
2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
6 bell peppers (some red, some green) cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 pound top-round beef, cut into 1/4-inch by 2-inch strips
1 pound boneless chicken, cut into 4-inch strips
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled
1 pound frozen rock lobster tails
2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts
1-pound jar whole boiled onions, drained
1 pound whole mushrooms, cleaned
1 pound pitted black olives (variety of choice)
3 heads escarole, washed and drained
Crusty bread to accompany the meal
Equipment needed: electric skillet

Place an electric skillet in the center of the table. Heat the olive oil, butter, wine vinegar, undrained anchovies and the garlic in the skillet set at 350 degrees. Stir the mixture occasionally until the anchovies have disintegrated.

Place the zucchini, peppers, beef, chicken, shrimp, lobster, artichoke hearts, onions, mushrooms and olives each into a separate attractive container for the table.

Place a third of the escarole into the pan, cover and cook about 5 minutes, until wilted and cooked down. Serve some to each guest, along with some bread.

From this point, each guest adds some of the other ingredients to the pot to cook before eating the escarole. Then, guests continue adding ingredients to the pot, removing them when cooked, and enjoying.

Midstream, add some more escarole and continue until all ingredients are cooked.

YOU WILL HAVE LEFTOVERS. Transfer the cooked ingredients to a container and refrigerate until ready to use as a delectable sauce over pasta.

Makes 8 hearty servings with lots of leftovers.


– bonnie