spirit animals and bagna cauda February 26, 2013

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:

  •  1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 10 cured anchovy filets – rinsed, boned and finely chopped
  • kosher salt, to taste

– 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:

  • 4 thick slices (1/2″ – 1″) rustic bread such as ciabatta
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1 cup thinly shaved celery stalks (reserve the leaves for the salad)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/3 cup picked celery leaves
  • 1/3 cup picked flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • bagna cauda
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste

– 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:


Paula - bell'alimento Feb 26, 2013 09:02 am

My toast with mascarpone and preserves is tasting pitiful right about now … Want this instead. Swoon.

Sharon@Cheesy Pennies Feb 26, 2013 12:02 pm

Thank you for this! I had bagna cauda at an Italian friend’s house and could not stop eating it. Been searching for a good recipe ever since. Your photos are lovely, too!

Nicole Feb 26, 2013 12:02 pm

OH MY GOD, the hamster thing literally made me laugh out loud…at work, no less. Aren’t our brains weird sometimes? Anyway, I pictured this little guy doing the parachuting: https://www.google.com/search?q=hamtaro&hl=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=SfYsUZe_Ieng2AWj2ICIDA&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAQ&biw=1600&bih=785

Eileen Feb 26, 2013 01:02 pm

Well, now I want to go to the spa–although my version of “the spa” is more or less “the sauna & hot tub,” and I don’t expect any visitors! :) Love the idea of a sandwich piled high with crispy shaved veg and potent dressing.

Lynn Feb 27, 2013 12:02 pm

I wasn’t expecting the hamster vision and just love that happened to you. :)

That’s an awesome sounding recipe.

The hamster made me laugh :) The mind surely does strange things when left to its own devices!

Stefanie @ Sarcastic Cooking Feb 27, 2013 03:02 pm

An aviator hamster? That. Is. Amazing! I don’t even know what my spirit animal would be…. I am kind of curious. I have never heard of bagna cauda, but I know just from reading the recipe I am going to love it.

merry jennifer Feb 28, 2013 12:02 pm

Now I’m never going to get that hamster image out of my mind. :)

Emily @ Tips on Healthy Living Mar 1, 2013 10:03 am

Marcella Hazan is coming up all over the place today. Her recipes are great–this is a wonderful post. I am also coincidentally going for my first body wrap next week. Fingers crossed I get a great culinary vision out of it, too!

Leslie Mar 4, 2013 11:03 am

This looks delicious! I love when caeasar salads use real anchovies. This looks even better! Thank you for the recipe.

And Then The Doorbell Rang

Denise Mar 5, 2013 03:03 pm

Pretty sure my leftover pasta was not as good as this. Perfect lunch time treat … thanks for the recipe! By the way, love the hamster. I cannot lay for that long during those wraps – makes me crazy, and like you, I replay my to-do list over and over while trying to zen out.

DessertForTwo Mar 9, 2013 08:03 pm

Hah! I too always think about who will come get me in the fire alarm goes off and I’m asleep on the massage table!
I’m inspired to make this!

Mandy Jun 26, 2013 08:06 am

I tried your bagna cauda recipe. Loved it! I’m going to a spa need week for the fourth of July, looking to the self indulgent healthy living. :-).