Bagna Cauda (The Butter Garlic Anchovy Sauce of Your Dreams)

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When a significant other goes out of town, most people use that opportunity to watch bad movies, to pig out on ice cream, and to spread out gratuitously in bed while sleeping. Me? I make risky foods. No, I don’t mean risky in a danger sense–I’m not eating supermarket ground beef tartar–I mean in a “will this be good?” sense. I take bigger chances when Craig’s not here because if I screw up, no one’s there to scrunch up their nose. So on Saturday morning, when I woke up and wanted breakfast, I opened Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book and studied the recipe for a sandwich that she says is Mari Batali’s favorite. It’s basically boiled eggs on arugula doused in Bagna Cauda. I didn’t have any bread and I didn’t have any arugula, but I did have the ingredients to make Bagna Cauda. And eggs. And, also–somewhat weirdly–farmer’s market Brussels Sprouts. An idea was born.

If you’ve read my cookbook (and by now, you really should have…what’s your excuse?) you’ll recall that I first learned how to make Bagna Cauda from Gina DePalma, Babbo’s extraordinary pastry chef (observation: everyone with a Bagna Cauda recipe is somehow connected to Mario Batali). It’s such a simple concept, there’s really no excuse for you not to try it. You grind up anchovies (Nancy Silverton heartily endorses the salted kind, which I’m lucky enough to have; the flavor’s way more intense than anchovies packed in olive oil, though you do have to fillet them yourself which isn’t so hard once you get the hang of it (just cut a slit along the backbone, peel off the flesh and lift off the bones in one piece))….

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…along with garlic in a mortar and pestle.

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If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, no problem: Gina taught me how to grind garlic and anchovies into a paste on the cutting board. Just sprinkle with a little salt, chop vigorously, then smear with your knife, chop again and keep going until it’s pasty.

After that, you add the mixture to a skillet with olive oil and butter:

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You bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes until the anchovies basically melt and the garlic gives up all of its flavor to the fat. Then, and this is a Nancy Silverton step I love, you add lemon zest, lemon juice and salt to taste. Before I added the lemon juice and salt, I thought: “Hmmm, this tastes pretty nice.” When I added lemon juice (a lot of it) and salt and tasted, I thought: “HOLY CRAP THAT IS THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AND I’M COUNTING THE TIME I SANG ‘HEY JUDE’ AT A HIGH SCHOOL PEP RALLY IN FRONT OF 3,000 PEOPLE.”

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That’s your Bagna Cauda. Most people consider it a dip. Pour it, hot, into a bowl and surround it with vegetables and you’ve got a great party dish. Gina recommends endive for this because you can scoop up a good amount in each bite; with carrots, etc., it slips off. Which is why I prefer to think of Bagna Cauda as a sauce: you can douse it, shamelessly, over anything you’re eating.

Which is why I took some Brussels sprouts I had from the farmer’s market, sliced them into shreds and fried them up in hot olive oil with a dash of salt, dousing everything in Bagna Cauda at the end:

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I cooked eggs the Nancy Silverton way (the way she does for Mario’s sandwich), putting them cold into cold water, bringing it to a boil, lowering it to a simmer and cooking for 5 minutes, then shocking the eggs in ice water. You slice off the tops and scoop out the insides. I thought the yolks would be runny, but they were cooked. Still: a good method for bright yellow insides.

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You can see the finished plate in the lead photo. Everything about that dish was amplified to 11 with the Bagna Cauda. I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

That was Bagna Cauda Adventure Day 1. On Bagna Cauda Adventure Day 2, I decided to make Mario Batali’s favorite sandwich.

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There’s really not much to it. Slice a baguette. Add arugula (I had butter lettuce, so used that). Douse everything in Bagna Cauda. Then add scooped out eggs and douse with more Bagna Cauda.

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No wonder this is Mario Batali’s favorite sandwich: it’s basically garlic bread with way more flavor (see: anchovies! lemon zest! lemon juice!), tender eggs and crunchy lettuce. If the yolks had oozed, I would have been even happier, but maybe that’s not what Nancy’s going for with her cooking method.

Doesn’t matter. Bagna Cauda is the best and the coolest part is if you have leftover Bagna Cauda, you can put it in a jar and refrigerate overnight. The next day you’ll have a solid lump of Bagna Cauda butter which you can probably spread on bread as a flavored butter or just add to a skillet and heat up again (like I did). The stuff is liquid (or solid, depending on its state) gold. The next time your loved ones go out of town, treat yourself to bad breath and good times and then sprawl out on the bed in a Bagna Cauda coma. That’s the good life.

Recipe: Nancy Silverton’s Bagna Cauda

Summary: A killer recipe from her famous sandwich book.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 4 3-inch-long salt-packed anchovies, rinsed well (that’s important!), backbones removed, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter [Note: for my purposes, I used half this amount…felt like too much for just me. But now I regret it because it would’ve made more.]
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil [I used 1/4 cup, same reasons]
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to tastes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Using a mortar and pestle, pulverize the garlic and anchovies until a smooth paste.
  2. Transfer the paste to a small saucepan. Add the butter and olive oil and bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and more lemon juice until you’re like “holy crap, there’s nothing left to live for.”

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

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