Bagna Cauda is a wonderful Italian dip. It literally translates to “hot bath”, and was used to dip vegetables in. It comes together in minutes and this is another application for the dip. The stars of this show are anchovies, garlic and a tremendous supporting role by olive oil. Even if you don’t like anchovies, this is a recipe you must try. There is no fishy taste as you might think, but the anchovies add a delightful saltiness to the dish. They slowly dissolve in the hot (do I have to say good quality) olive oil and garlic. When I was much younger and we’d order pizza for parties, someone always wanted anchovies on a portion – my reaction was ugh! Can’t blame me, I thought they were smelly and fishy – I was young, what did I know.
Oh how far my taste buds have come! The first time I had this sauce – I didn’t know it was anchovies. I fell in love with it and wanted to put it on everything. Discovering it was anchovies didn’t change my opinion of the sauce – it was outstanding. I had it as a dip with veggies – my niece Lisa brought it over for a party we were having. She’s so adventurous in cooking. This was the same year she made champagne sorbet – oh yes!
So give this a try, don’t forget to reserve the pasta water in case you need to add it to the sauce. I’m recommending whole wheat pasta. Why? Because it’s good for you! But if you use regular pasta, I won’t hold it against you (I can’t, I used regular pasta)! Take a look at the “Substitutions and Alterations” section for some other ideas to complement the meal. As always – enjoy!
- 1 lb Whole wheat spaghetti or fettuccine or your favorite pasta (regular pasta will also do, I used penne – my favorite)
- 8 anchovies (you can buy these in a tin or a jar – I recommend the jar as they keep longer)
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- ¼ cup capers
- 1 cup thin asparagus, chopped (my favorite, but use any vegetable that you like – snap peas, broccoli florets, diced carrots, etc)
- ½ cup Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, bring water to a boil
When it starts to boil, salt the water well – if you are using 1 litre of water, use at least 1 tbsp. salt – my Italian Chefs who thought my classes said the water should taste like the ocean – but as always, do this to taste
Add the pasta to the water and stir to loosen
While the pasta is cooking, add oil to a medium size non-stick (or regular) frying pan, over medium heat
When hot add the sliced garlic and stir with a wooden spoon – you don’t want the garlic to burn as it will be bitter so keep stirring it – about 30 seconds
Add the anchovies and with the back of the spoon break up the anchovies – they will completely dissolve as they heat through in the oil – you want this to happen
Remove from the fire and add the capers and asparagus – stir, cover
Your pasta should be ready (packaged instructions usually say 8 – 10 minutes) – if using fresh pasta – your own or store bought, time is about half that – 3-5 minutes, nothing compares to fresh!
Test the pasta by removing one strand and taste it, it should have a bite to it – your preference of bite please but really “al dente” is the best as your pasta will not clump together if cooked to this stage
Remove one cup of water and save this for later – you may or may not need this
Drain the remaining pasta water – and add the pasta to the anchovy frying pan – using tongs gently turn the pasta in the frying pan to spread the anchovy sauce, capers and asparagus over the pasta
If the pasta is dry, add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pasta and toss – do this until you get to the desired stage
Substitutions and Alterations:
- Serve with some meat or fish on the side – maybe some mussels
- Sauté some shrimp in the bagna cauda before taking it off the fire – I recommend a 31-40 count (that’s how many you get per pound – and please, always uncooked) shrimp – more shrimp means more for you and more left over, but use any size you like
- Serve with a tossed salad – mesclun mix, arugula, baby kale etc
- Add some grated cheese – Parmigiano, pecorino – your favorite dry hard white cheese
- Add some spice with some dried chili flakes, Thai chilies or jalapeno’s
- Add some fresh herbs – basil, thyme, chives, parsley or cilantro – don’t forget nuts – sliced or slivered almonds or the significantly more expensive and delicious – pignoli (pine nuts)