I LOVE a good Caesar salad. The very best one I ever had was at Zuni Café in San Francisco. Judy Rodgers, the owner and chef there is also from my hometown of St. Louis. Her recipe from the Zuni Café cookbook is terrific, but a bit time consuming. She wants you to only use salt-packed anchovies, which are better. They are cleaner tasting, but, you have to rinse them quite a bit to get all the salt off and then fillet the little suckers. Because my husband absolutely adores Caesar salad and asks me to make it often, I have been working on a quicker version for the dressing. I believe that I am now satisfied with this one and I’m ready to share with you!
But once again, it is always about the ingredients. You must use high quality extra virgin olive oil, only Parmigiano-Reggiano for cheese, super fresh lemons, farm fresh eggs (I only use eggs from our farmers, Ethel and Tom), and as Judy Rodgers says, taste it on your lettuce, and hopefully your organic romaine is sweet. Homemade croutons are a must in my book. (What else are you gonna do with all that old bread in the fridge?) Make a double amount of croutons and store them at room temperature in an airtight plastic container. They will still taste fresh for a week, so you can make another salad the following week. Your washed lettuce must be cold and dry and do not tear the leaves. Leave them whole as you can see in the photo. This is because when you tear them, they just release their water, watering down your very tasty dressing and you really don’t want that. And it’s best use your hands to toss the leaves with the dressing in order to properly coat them.
CAESAR SALAD – serves 4 – 6
3/4 cup homemade croutons (see directions below) from 4 – 5 oz. of bread
2 – 3 large cloves of minced garlic (remove inner green germ as the sprouts can add an unpleasant bitterness)
4 – 5 anchovy fillets packed in oil, blot and pat dry on paper towels, and finely chop and mash
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbs. or more of freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I usually add about 3 tbs – taste to your liking)
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
1 large cold egg
6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more for serving
2 to 3 heads romaine lettuce, hearts and tender leaves only
Freshly cracked black pepper
Make the croutons:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Dice day-old bread (Italian, French or even whole wheat) into 3/4-inch cubes.
Toss with about 2 tbs. of olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake approximately 10 to 15 minutes or until just golden brown. Halfway through the baking time, give the pan a shake to make sure the croutons toast evenly. Remove from oven and completely cool croutons. Store in an airtight container.
Make the Caesar salad dressing:
In a bowl, whisk together the garlic, anchovies, and salt until blended.
Whisk in the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.
Whisk in the raw egg until the mixture is thick, approximately 1 minute.
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with one hand while vigorously whisking the mixture with the other.
When the dressing is well combined, whisk in 1/4 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese. Grind fresh pepper to taste. Taste your dressing on a small piece of romaine. It may need more salt, lemon juice or cheese, but remember you will grate more cheese on top before serving. I usually add more lemon juice.
Use whole leaves of romaine hearts that have been washed, dried and chilled. Blot dry with a paper towel again before dressing. Place them in a wide bowl. Fold and toss with dressing, (using your hands is best) making sure each leaf is properly coated. Add the croutons and toss again.
Arrange the leave in a single direction on the plate, scrape the last drizzle of dressing on to the salads, distribute the croutons evenly and grate more Parmesan on top. Pass the black pepper. Enjoy!!
Now recently, when we’re upstate and have the outdoor grill, I have been splitting a whole head of romaine lengthwise and grilling it before drizzling on the dressing. Warm and cool, crunchy and different, even sweeter, it’s delicious!! Try it! Just brush both sides with a little olive oil before putting them on the grill. Grill the romaine 2 – 3 minutes per side at about 400 degrees on a gas grill.
When done, place on a plate, cut side up and drizzle on dressing. Top with fresh grated cheese and croutons. Amazing!