As a mother, there are certain dishes you make for your children because you know their favorites by heart. In this case, I happen to love caesar salad as much as Krista does, maybe even more. I have a feeling that it may be the favorite of many more people judging by the number of times it’s been ordered at restaurants when I’ve been at the table (not just by me).
Although there are competing stories about the origin of this popular salad, everyone seems to agree the original recipe was created by an Italian-born Mexican named Caesar Cardini around 1924. Julia Child reportedly ate a caesar salad as a child at Cardini’s restaurant and some 50 years later still had memories of it. She made her own version with the help of Cardini’s daughter who trademarked the dressing recipe in 1948.
The main ingredient is romaine lettuce, firm enough to withstand loads of dressing. Let Us Farm is my favorite vendor for lettuce at the University Farmers Market. They have some Bullet Romaine that’s perfect for caesar salad-making. Two heads will generously serve six. Any number of vendors have fresh eggs, one of the more controversial ingredients in the caesar dressing. I, for one, have no problem eating raw egg yolks as long as the eggs are free-range, organic and very fresh. I’ve read that the risk of salmonella is very low in eggs from healthy chickens. Just to be careful, you can wash the shells before cracking since most of the pathogens, if they exist, are on the shell. Pregnant women and those with compromised immunity are told not to eat raw eggs so you might want to warn guests and let them decide for themselves. Some people go as far as substituting mayo for the egg yolk. I love mayo, but not in my caesar dressing.
The other contested ingredient is anchovies. The original recipe used worcestershire sauce, not actual fish. I’m all for using anchovies and as a matter of fact, have heard rumors that sometime during the summer you can buy local, fresh anchovies at Mutual Fish Company. No one seems quite sure when they will appear — maybe you just have to get lucky and be there when they come in. If anyone is aware of a reliable source for local anchovies, I’d love to know about it.
The easiest method for preparing the lettuce is to cut the whole head into strips about an inch wide. Using this method, there is very little waste and once cut, the strips are easy to wash and dry in a salad spinner. I know there are those who would never put a knife to salad greens. But, trust me, romaine is tough and can take it. You can even prepare the lettuce ahead of time and put the spinner-dried strips in a plastic bag with a paper towel and be ready to assemble the salad at the last minute. The dressing can also be made ahead if kept in a tightly-lidded container in the fridge.
Caesar Salad Dressing
1 egg yolk
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 – 3 anchovies
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste (if you use anchovies, you’ll need less salt)
Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. Blend for about a minute. Continue blending, adding the olive oil in a slow drizzle until it is fully incorporated.
For croutons, cut stale bread in cubes (I love using sourdough bread). Place on baking sheet in a 350 oven until toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove and place in a bowl. While they’re still warm, drizzle with olive oil and toss to cover.
Just before you’re ready to eat, place lettuce in a large salad bowl. Add croutons, and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. Add dressing and toss. Grind fresh pepper on top. To make a more complete meal, you can also add grilled chicken, shrimp or an avocado for a vegetarian alternative.
Last Friday evening members of the Cocktail Study Club piled their plates high with caesar salad along with roasted asparagus & broccoli. It’s a great meal to carry outdoors and catch the last few rays of sunshine on a summer evening.