Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Anchovy Adventures: Bagnun chapter

Hello, my anchovy friends
A few weeks ago, we ate dinner at a friend's restaurant in Levanto, and I was introduced to a anchovy "soup" called bagnun.  I glared at Manuel across the table, convinced he was holding out a regional dish that combined two of my favorite things - anchovies and soup - from me, but he had never eaten it.  It was another reminder of how though these tiny Riviera villages are linked easily and quickly by train, this is, historically speaking, a new thing, and dishes and even language might still be rooted in the villages they originated in.
Sauteeing onions and garlic is one of the best smells in the world.
And Vetua is my new favorite Cinque Terre white wine.
Bagnun is a dish with origins a bit further northwest then Monterosso, in Sestri Levante, and the nearby village of Riva Trigoso has hosted a festival to celebrate this humble fisherman's dish for several decades now.  The dish was born on small sailboats called leudi, which were tiny enough to be able to be pulled into the villages off the shore when the weather got rough, but still large enough to host sails to pick up the famous winds in the region, especially the winds of Sestri Levante (you might remember my post a few weeks back about the windy seaside town).
Bagnun in action
Obviously, in order to cook a soup on a tiny sailboat centuries back, it has to be something relatively foolproof, with few ingredients easy to come by.  Following this rule of Ligurian cuisine, this dish contains anchovies, wine, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, olive oil, parsley, and old bread or hard seabiscuits if you are actually attempting to cook this at sea.  Without a Ligurian grandma (Manuel's grandma, born in Corniglia, raised in Vernazza, and now Monterossina for the last over 60 years, had no idea how to make it, but told me to just put the ingredients in a pot and cook them) to call upon to help me with the dish, I searched through books and websites until I got the basic idea, and then followed her wise advice: get the basics down then stop measuring.  Add the ingredients in quantities until it tastes good.
The garlic and onions are sauteed in a tegame, or a small, high walled pot to hold the liquid.  When they are nice and browned, but not burnt, white wine is added and then the alcohol simmered off.  Fresh tomatoes are added, salt, more wine and a small glass of water, and the mixture is brought again to a simmer.  Then, fresh anchovies are put in and the mixture is simmered and gently stirred so as to keep the anchovies whole. until the little silver fish are opaque and cooked through.  A hefty handful of parsley, and the soup is served with toasted bread, old crumbled bread, old biscuits or anything else that works to sop up the broth.

Bagnun, buon appetito!
With this light wind and sprinkling of rain every few days, soup is wonderful - and with anchovies, even better.

1 comment:

  1. oh how nice that sounds and looks Christine, I remember you lovly Anchovies and will never think of them the same way again. I look forward to visiting again one day and enjoying the amazing food's you introduced us to when we were there. I hope you are all well and that life is full of delightful times ahead for you all. Denise (Australia)