At the beginning of 2013, I did something very unusual for me: I went and had a spa day. We took off to Athens (a great little town with fantastic spots to eat, btw) and, while Mike was working, I settled in for three hours of unadulterated relaxation. Scrubs, wraps, a massage. I’d only had the latter before and I was looking forward to disconnecting for a good chunk of time.
Have you ever had one of these body wraps before? It’s, at least initially, one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever experienced. You’re laid on a table and rubbed and slathered and twisted and turned to wrangle yourself into this giant piece of…aluminum foil. Then, you’re left there. In the dark. To percolate until your insides are warm and cozy. I felt a bit like a baked potato.
With no access to moving my arms and a headband that was no match for this mane of hair, I laid in this dark room and listened to the stereotypical spa music that was being pumped through the speakers. I have a hard time letting my mind slow down – rather, I often can’t get it to stop….so this exercise in trapped meditation was a teensy bit alarming at first. Laying there, eyes closed, my to-do list ran through my mind. What if I have to pee? What if there is a fire? How will I explain why my hair is doing this once I leave here?
The music was softly twinkling and there was an overtrack of soft waves crashing…and then light breezes and faint rustling. For a brief moment, my mind went completely blank. COMPLETELY BLANK. All I saw was this dark night sky and suddenly…a vision appeared. Guided by the wind that was blowing in the background, a hamster wearing an aviator cap and goggles a la Amelia Earhart, parachuted down in front of my eyes. Slowly descending in front of my field of vision…and then he was gone. Had I had any use of my arms and leg, I would have shot up from the table. Instead, I laid there laughing out loud a bit that an airborne hamster is my spirit animal. I’ve summoned that little guy a couple times since then and, if nothing else, he’s good for a belly laugh.
At our favorite restaurant here in Atlanta, I see bagna cauda on the menu that evening. I’d made bagna cauda before – as a dip for vegetables – and thought about ordering it. My sweets, however, isn’t thrilled with the overly fishy taste of anchovies…so we passed. Halfway through our meal, this wonderfully light salad arrived as a gift from the kitchen. This was the bagna cauda…being used as a dressing on the stack of shaved, crunchy veg. We ate every bit of it and mopped the lush sauce up with some bread. The things your mind is able to come up with when you make room for ideas to show themselves. That’s what I took away from my massage that day…and dining experiences like the one we had that night. Things don’t always have to appear as you expect them to.
I pretty much obsessed about that salad for days after our dinner. The crunchy, crisp vegetables were such a great foil for the oil and salt of the bagna cauda…and you have to have some bread nearby to sop up the sauce with…so why not make it into some kooky salad meets crostini thing? I’m calling it a tartine but it’s also a salad perched on a really big crouton. The crunchy texture and flavors of the salad perched atop a crunchy slice of bread that is bathing in a drizzle of bagna cauda. You can either lightly dress the salad and put it on top of the bread…or drizzle the whole thing with the oil once you’ve plated it (i chose to do the later as I think it keeps the salad frisky). I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe but there are a multitude of versions out there – choose the one that you feel most comfortable with.
Shaved Vegetable Tartines with Bagna Cauda – makes 4 servings as an appetizer or salad course- bagna cauda recipe by Marcella Hazan
For the bagna cauda:
– Heat oil and butter in a pot over medium-high heat until butter begins to foam. Add garlic; cook for 10 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low and add anchovies. Cook, stirring and mashing anchovies with a wooden spoon, until anchovies are broken into very small pieces and dip is cloudy, 3–4 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
For the tartines:
– On a grill pan or in a large skillet, toast the bread slices until crunchy but not toasted all the way through. Set aside.
– In a medium mixing bowl, combine the radishes, celery, carrots, celery leaves and parsley.
– Each on their own plate, place one piece of the toasted bread. Top with a large handful of the vegetable mixture. Drizzle over as much of the bagna cauda as you’d like – you can use a little or a lot. The recipe will likely make a bit more than you’ll use. Season each plate with some fresh ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Some other bagna cauda obsessions across the Web: