Italians know their olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I think the discussion ends there. Thank you to Melissa Clarke from the New York Times for introducing me to this amazing salad dressing, that as it was preparing, I was dreaming of throwing it over pasta!! You think you have your regular olive oil and balsamic vinegar down pat? Think again. Once you have this, there is absolutely no going back to the “plain old” dip.
The dressing or dip in question is bagna cauda. It’s a mix of oil, balsamic vinegar, anchovies and garlic. It is supposed to be warm and kept warm at the table, if used as a dip. In this case, it is used as a salad dressing, and it doesn’t hurt it’s a bit on the warmer side if you’re having your salad right away. The amount is enough for 2 small salads, so you will have a bit leftover, but trust me, if you have some good bread around, you wouldn’t have a problem. (also, if you have no other fat in your food for the rest of the day, the olive oil is good fat, so you shouldn’t feel bad. I even know Mediterranean people who eat bread dipped in olive oil for breakfast! And then you wonder how they can eat all that and still stay thin…. Hm….)
Melissa has this dip over a salad of arugula and avocado. The avocado goes quite nicely with it, but I mixed in a bit of regular lettuce well. It is so tasty, I want to have it with just bread or just with some pasta tossed with it and maybe some quickly sautéed cherry tomatoes. It is so simple and so good.
The original recipe calls for “a large pinch of kosher salt”. Unless you find the anchovies not salty, go ahead. Mine were just fine so I didn’t need to add any salt at all.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 anchovies, finely chopped
1 very large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I used Maille’s balsamic vinegar)
1 small bunch arugula, cleaned and torn into pieces (about 3 cups)
Mix of arugula and lettuce, the ratio I leave to you
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1. In a pan, warm the oil, lower the heat (to medium or even lower) and add the anchovies. Sautée for 4-5 minutes until the anchovies fall apart.
2. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar and pepper. (be careful, because the oil will still be warm, the vinegar’s acid will evaporate and might sting to your eyes. I actually rushed to the recipe to see whether I needed to cool the oil to room temperature before adding the vinegar, but Melissa doesn’t say anything about that) Let cool to room temperature. (I couldn’t wait so it wilted my arugula a bit. I didn’t care :-))
3. In a bowl toss the salad with some of the sauce. Top with avocado and drizzle some more of that delicious, delicious sauce!
I found it interesting to add a sprinkling of grated parmesan, but it is not necessary. It is awesome on its own.
One word of advice, that Melissa failed to mention, is that when you sautée the anchovies, those babies spatter in all directions! As if there are little bubbles exploding! (they might have some water in them, even if they’re packed in oil) So, not only wear an apron, but keep your face and exposed arms away from the pan and stir gently…