Skip to content

Happy 2022!

December 31, 2021

Should Old Fragrances Be Forgot?

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Whenever my nose catches the aroma of garlic, I always think:  “That smells like home to me.”  Actually, the fragrance of garlic smells like home or my Aunt Zita’s Italian restaurant.  For many years, my extended family and I celebrated New Year’s Eve and the New Year with an Italian specialty called Bagna Calda or spelled “Bagna Cauda).  Before Fondue pots became popular in the 1970s, either my dad or my Aunt Zita prepared the Bagna Calda as what we would refer to today as a “hot dip.” 

                Although recipes for Bagna Calda are in the Little Italy Festival  cookbook (Clinton, Indiana) and a cousin gave me a recipe, I will not be sharing a recipe in this WORDWALK post because I cannot find my dad’s recipe and because you can find various recipes online.  Throughout my moves, I have lost some items and found others; after my most recent moves, I do wish I had found my one missing recipe box wherein, undoubtedly, is my dad’s excellent recipe for Bagna Calda.  In general, if one follows a recipe from Northern Italy, the basic ingredients will be olive oil, butter, anchovies, and cloves of garlic.  During this COVID Era, using a communal iron skillet for dipping into the “bagna” most likely sounds terrible; however, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s–we frequently ate the Bagna Calda in this manner.  Nevertheless, I must admit that even as a child or teen, I preferred my own little bowl–usually one of the beige bowls that my Aunt Zita used for serving extra parmesan cheese.  One would hold a thick slice of Italian bread; then, select a leaf of Iceberg lettuce, bell pepper (which many Hoosiers called “mangos”), or another vegetable for dipping.  After dipping the lettuce leaf (or leaves) into the bagna, I placed the lettuce onto the Italian bread which would soak up the drippings  of flavorful garlic mixture.  When the bread had soaked a sufficient amount from a few helpings of vegetables, eating the moistened bread was a delicious next course.  Some family members would also eat the anchovies and garlic, but I did not.  While I loved the anchovies in the Bagna Calda, I have never ordered anchovies on a pizza. 

                Some of my friends were from families whose ancestors were from Southern Italy.  Their custom was to make the Bagna Calda with cream and tuna.  I could never eat Bagna Calda with cream nor tuna!  I stuck to my roots of Northern Italy–Levone.

                While the Bagna Calda was a special treat for New Year’s Eve, since I liked this Italian specialty so much, we, on a rare occasion, did enjoy this “hot dip” on other wintry evenings.  Most often the bell peppers we used were from our gardens and from Mason jars which had been canned (pickled) by my parents, my Aunt Zita, or my paternal grandmother.  I loved these pickled bell peppers–red, orange, yellow, and green–as much as I enjoyed the Bagna Calda.  For many years, the Italian bread to accompany this recipe was from our cousins’ Comba Bakery.  How delicious was that crusty Italian bread made by cousin Martin Comba in his large brick oven!  Finally, the other ingredient of this recipe was good conversation as all gathered around.  Mangia!  Mangia!  (Translation:  Eat!  Eat!)

                I hope that you and yours are enjoying some traditional foods and beverages on this New Year’s Eve and that you will safely and happily toast the new year.

Cheers!  May 2022 bring you many smiles, the warmth of happiness, and

the fragrance of good food and memories!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

December 31, 2021, Friday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Happy New Year to you and Willow, Alice! My favorite part of the New Year’s Eve celebration was the crusty Italian bread made by our cousin. Although I have eaten Italian bread in many places, I have never tasted a more delicious bread anywhere!

    Wishing you and Willow good health and much happiness in 2022!
    Love, Mary

    • New Year’s Greetings!  Mary–Thanks for your comment on this post! 
      Indeed, besides the fragrance of garlic, the aroma of baking bread is
      another fragrance of home.  Each crusty loaf was made with such
      precision.  While I loved the smell and taste of the bread when I was
      much younger, I can now better admire the art of baking such perfect
      loaves of Italian bread–each as pretty as a picture.

      May your new year be spiced with some fine breadmaking!

      Alice and Willow

  2. Katherine Binole permalink

    Alice, As usual, I’m late in reading your blog. I was talking on the phone recently explaining our delicious Italian Fondue or dip. I so loved bagna caulda, the bread and veggies! It was a special treat on New Year’s Eve after restaurant closing. It wasn’t something we made often but such a treat! Mother would make it occasionally in the winter on our coal stove cooktop. Julia and Dominic were always invited. I remember everyone walking around our table with bread and veggie and going to stovetop to dip the bagna Calda. The smell of butter, garlic and anchovies was amazing! Happy memories of food, family and friends. Love Aunt Kathy

    • January Greetings!  Aunt Kathy–Thanks very much for adding your
      comments and recollections of bagna calda onto this post!  How nice to
      have your writing here again!  Last Sunday at a meeting, a friend from
      Elmira, New York, who used to teach college-level Italian told me that
      bagna “cauda” was mentioned in the textbook from which she had taught. 
      I loved hearing her comment about the bagna calda!

      Stay warm and well during the Minnesota winter!

      Love, Alice and Willow

  3. Hi Alice and Willow,
    Somehow my comment about my love for Bagna Calda didn’t quite make it into print so I’ll try again. I commented on how much our family enjoyed it as a winter time treat, also with canned “mangos” as well as winter vegetables from the root/wine cellar. But, unlike your northern Italian family, we used the usual ingredients and always, always, added cream, as I still do today. My grandpa Pasquale and aunt, Cynthia Contri Massa, were always the chefs. It was a delightful treat, when even we youngsters were allowed a tiny sip of home made wine. Indeed, it is a fragrant memory!

    • Hi, Fran–Special thanks to you for adding your comments, your warm
      emories, to this bagna calda post!  Nevertheless, I am surprised that
      you and your family prefer the adding of cream to the bagna calda! 
      Aren’t we fortunate that our relatives maintained these Italian
      traditions and foods for us to enjoy and share with younger generations?

      Cheers to a fragrant kitchen during 2022!

      Best always, Alice and Willow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: