The only word that came to mind when I tasted Nancy Silverton’s recipe for bagna cauda was magic. Warm anchovy, lemon and butter vinaigrette drizzled over hard-boiled eggs, arugula and thick slices of grilled bread. It was savory, rich and full of contrasting textures and temperatures that resulted from blending cooked, cured and raw ingredients.
The recipe also contains the most wonderful, sticky note-sized bits of information about how to cook well. When I was just starting out as a cook, I reveled in the sort of tidbits given away in recipes like this one. When the culinary world seemed so vast and overwhelming, finding a foolproof technique for hard-cooking eggs was like stumbling upon treasure.
“Place the eggs in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and turn down to a low simmer. Simmer the eggs for 5 minutes, and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of ice water for a minute or so. Take them out as soon as they’re cool.”
Really? I can just have that knowledge? Discoveries like that or learning that anchovies, garlic and lemon complement each other beautifully when heated gently with a little olive oil and butter are what make cooking such an exciting lifelong pursuit. With each technique and bit of culinary finesse I tuck away in my back pocket, I learn a little more about how to make food taste great. But more importantly, there is real magic to certain foods and how they can be transformed through cooking or combining them with other ingredients.
adapted from Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 oil-packed anchovies, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt, to taste
4 extra large eggs
4 thick slices good-quality sourdough bread (not the sour kind)
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 cups loosely packed arugula
Method: With a mortar and pestle or the side of a chef’s knife, pulverize the garlic and anchovies together until they form a paste.
Transfer the paste to a small saucepan along with 4 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and salt to taste. Remove from the heat, and breathe in the intoxicating aroma of warm lemon, anchovy, butter and garlic. This is bagna cauda, which literally translates to “warm bath.”
Place the eggs in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and turn down to a low simmer. Simmer the eggs for 5 minutes, and immediately plunge them into a large bowl of ice water for a minute or so. Take them out as soon as they’re cool.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the pan, and add the bread. Grill the bread for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown, moving it around a bit periodically to ensure the entire surface soaks up some butter.
Remove from the pan and rub the bread with garlic. Cut each piece in half and arrange on a platter.
To assemble, pile some arugula on each piece of bread. Take the top off each egg and with a spoon, scoop the eggs out of their shells in large chunks onto the bread. Be sure you get some yolk on each piece. Drizzle a generous amount of the warm bagna cauda over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 2 to 3.