If you can’t find anything nice to say about anyone, come sit here by me.
Super Bowl Sunday: Some people gather to watch the game and eat nachos and wings, others to watch the Puppy Bowl (good job, MVP Abigail the Parsons’ Terrier!) and Olympia Dukakis movies and eat Bagna Cauda Bean Spread. I leave it to you to guess into which camp I fall.
When one watches an Olympia Dukakis marathon – Steel Magnolias, Moonstruck, Jeffrey (I know, she’s only in it for a few minutes, but she makes quite an impression) – one wants to eat movie munchies that embody the more beloved qualities of Ms. Dukakis herself. Kind of like an Olympia Dukakis seder: Comforting, nurturing foods with bursts of whimsy and zip. With those criteria in mind, I bring you Olympia Dukakis Bagna Cauda Bean Spread. It’s no Academy Award, but it’s something.
The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.
Bagna Cauda (literally, warm bath) is a classic Italian dip for raw or blanched veggies made from everything that is good and pure in the world: garlic, red pepper flakes, garlic, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and garlic. The garlic and anchovies are mashed together in a mortar and pestle, then gently cooked in olive oil until toasty and fragrant.
It’s wonderful as is, but I couldn’t help but feel that a standard bagna cauda would not capture Ms. Dukakis’ creamy consistency and spreadability. To pay adequate homage, I decided to combine the traditional warm dip with a bean spread made with cannellini beans.
I love my transsexual lesbian son!
Either way – classic or with beans – the recipe starts the same way. The mashed garlic and anchovies mingle in the olive oil with red pepper flakes, some lemon juice and zest, and a bit of salt.
I know what you’re saying: You don’t have a lesbian transsexual son. Also, you don’t like anchovies, and you think they’re fishy and kinda creepy. First, let me reassure you that the anchovies completely melt into the olive oil as they cook, so you won’t ever scoop up a tiny fish head with your beans. They add saltiness and depth to the finished dip, which would otherwise just be really, really garlicky (not that that would be all bad). Second, Olympia Dukakis is a feisty lady who is not afraid of some tiny cured fish, and she would want you to try this dip.
You have the handwriting of a serial killer.
The resulting garlicky slurry goes for a spin in the food processor or blender with a can of cannellini beans and some more lemon juice and salt to taste, and is whirred until very smooth. Cannellini beans are usually used in Tuscan bean dips made with garlic and rosemary, but I prefer this spread: the flavor is punchy but complex, and the dip is tasty with blanched veggies like the classic bagna or with pita (or my personal favorite bean spread vehicle: naan). It’s also a great alternative for those of us who love the chickpea but get hummused-out occasionally.
I just want you to know that no matter what you do, you’re gonna die.
Also: another bonus! This recipe will make slightly more of the olive oil mix than you’ll need for the beans. The leftovers make a fantastic light supper when tossed with some whole wheat linguine and grated romano and paired with a nice salad.
Bagna Cauda Bean Dip
8-12 cloves of garlic
3-5 anchovies (this amount and the garlic depend on the size of the cloves/anchovies)
2 good pinches red pepper flakes
1 tbsp lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 c. olive oil
1 15 oz. can cannellini or great northern beans
salt and lemon juice to taste
A lot of this recipe depends on the size, quality and taste of your ingredients, so take all the amounts as guidelines and play with the recipe to find the quantities you like. It’s pretty hard to mess up.
Finely mince the garlic or grate the cloves with a microplane. Add them to a small mortar and pestle with the anchovies and mash together (you can also do this in a bowl with a fork).
In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic mixture, red pepper, lemon zest and juice. Keep at a very low simmer for at least 5 minutes. The longer you simmer the sweeter and less forward the garlic will become, so you have some control here. If your mixture is simmering vigorously, seems to be sizzling unduly or is turning a dark brown, your heat is too high. Turn it down.
Put the beans into a blender or food processor. Add 1/3 of the garlic and oil mixture and blend until smooth. Keep adding garlic/oil, salt and lemon juice until you like the way it tastes; for me, this took all of the garlic/oil except for 2 or 3 tablespoons, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the juice from another half a lemon. Best eaten warm or at room temperature.