Mary's Bagna Cauda Pasta

Test Kitchen-Approved

Food52 Review: Featured in: The Simple Pasta Recipe That Broke the Silence Between My Sister & Me.The Editors

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 15 min


  • 50 grams salted butter (it's a simple sauce, so opt for the good stuff if you can)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 5 anchovy fillets (I like Ortiz anchovies from Cantabria, packed in olive oil)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced (or more, depending on your taste), plus zest for garnish
  • 300 grams spaghetti
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
In This Recipe


  1. Set large pot of generously salted water over high heat.
  2. While waiting for water to boil, add butter and olive oil to a large pan over medium-low heat. When butter is melted, add garlic. You may want to turn the heat down—nothing ruins flavor like burnt, bitter garlic!
  3. Once garlic is golden, add anchovy fillets and smash using a flat wooden spatula. Stir occasionally until mixture is more or less uniform. Think of this as a rustic sauce—no need to be perfectly smooth. Add the lemon juice and stir.
  4. Lower heat, and while sauce continues to cook, add pasta to water, and cook until not quite yet al dente.
  5. Here's a trick I learned from working at a culinary school: To fully coat every single noodle with sauce, finish pasta in the sauce pan, mixing continually to soak up all that saucy flavor. And because your sauce will get creamy with a little bit of that starchy pasta water, I ditch a colander altogether and use tongs (plus maybe a wooden spatula for support). Scoop pasta directly from the water into the sauce pan. Alternatively, you can strain pasta and reserve a half cup of pasta water, then add that to your sauce. But I'm all about less mess.
  6. When the pasta is well coated and cooked to your liking, garnish with fresh ground pepper, a touch of lemon zest, and grated Parmesan.

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Reviews (12) Questions (3)

12 Reviews

Jim January 30, 2019
Just ok. Not the dish I so enjoyed in Sicily.
jacqueline P. January 29, 2019
Cannot wait to make this. I too have a sister that I love completely and who lives far away. Thank you for touching my heart.
Author Comment
Caitlin G. January 30, 2019
Thanks Jacqueline! Hope you love the recipe, too (and share with sisty :-))
Laurie A. January 29, 2019
Sweet article but it’s “Joe and me” not “Joe and I”... the pasta sauce is delicious!
Author Comment
Caitlin G. January 30, 2019
Yoops! Thanks Laurie :-)
Mel January 29, 2019
Somewhat frustrating that after reading that very long article, which heavily focused on the anchovies, and then having to click through to get to the actual recipe, the anchovies are omitted from the recipe instructions.
Eric K. January 29, 2019
Hi Mel, they're in step #3.
gandalf January 29, 2019
What happened to the anchovies in the recipe?
Paddy January 29, 2019
In the article attached to this recipe the author says she smashes them to a creamy pulp in the butter/olive oil mixture, tiny bones and all of course.
Kris January 29, 2019
And, the anchovies...?
Kris January 29, 2019
Oh. I just skimmed the article but read the recipe<br />Four times looking for them
Eric K. January 29, 2019
Hi there, so sorry for the confusion. The missing steps have been added!