“The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook” ~ Julia Child
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Some days, the only thing that sounds good is a salad
And sometimes, those some days are every day, especially in the middle of June when the weather in Iowa has been oscillating between unseasonably hot and heavy rain (with hail!). Around our house, these are the kinds of days we've been having
Salad days, or sort of
Regular readers have realized by this point that we eat a lot of salad at our house.
Between the two of us, we could easily justify a larger than average garden. In fact, one of the first meals we ever shared was a salad of kale, wheat berries, cranberries, with a warm baguette and a disk of Mt Tam on the side.
It's become a regular habit ever since
I realized the other day that most of the time during the summer, we don't cook together as much. Instead, we assemble. This could be a bit disconcerting for two people who claim to be decent cooks, but really, it isn't so bad. Come summer, food is best with minimal fussing, anyway, and no matter the time of year, a good salad is nothing to scoff at
For the past several days, we've been letting our salad tendency run amok
My husband was traveling, and after he returned, we decided some yard work was in order. The weatherman pulled out all of the stops as far as sunshine was concerned. Sweaty, dirty, and after a cool shower, it was the sort of summer's evening that was made for salad and beer on the back deck
And so we answered with a standby salad that's been in our repertoire for a while
It couldn't be simpler: long leaves of romaine, crumbly croutons, and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The dressing, too, couldn't be easier: garlic and anchovies, parmesan, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar. But from there, it's all alchemy. Instead of mayo, which is common variation, this version uses eggs, which is a bit more traditional but just as easy
What results is bright with a kick, a spark that will liven up romaine's cool, watery crunch
All told, on a warm summer's evening, this salad is almost as refreshing as a dip in the pool; cold, a little puckery, creamy, and crisp. With minimal assembly required, I'm sure we'll continue with our Caesar bender
I see no good reason to stop
A few notes about the recipe
The original calls for anchovies packed in salt, although they were hard to come by at our local grocery. Instead, I used the best oil-packed that I could find, rinsed them well and dried them on paper towels. And sprinkled with some salt, about a three-fingers pinch worth
Be sure to dry the romaine leaves as well as you're able as the dressing will cling better
A friend taught me a great tip for applying thick dressings to whole leaves of romaine. She'd slide on a pair of latex gloves, spoon some dressing into the bowl of lettuce and use her hands to gently rub dressing on to each leaf. No worries if you don't use gloves, you just might smell a bit garlicky for a while
~ Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Zuni Cafe's Caesar Salad
- 4-5 oz. of day-old artisan bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (gluten-free if you're avoiding gluten)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- 6-9 anchovy fillets, mashed (or ~ 1 ½ Tbsp minced)
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- 2 large cold eggs
- about ½ ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (the juice from about 1 ½ lemons)
- fine grain sea salt
- 2 large or 3 medium heads of romaine lettuce (you'll want around 1 ½ pounds of usable leaves)
- Preheat the oven to 350 deg F
- In a medium bowl toss the bread cubes with olive oil and lightly season with salt.
- Toss again to make sure each crouton is evenly coated before placing the croutons on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes.
- Check for doneness - you're going for something crisp on the outside with a slightly tender on the inside.
- Remove the croutons from the oven and set aside
- Prep the Romaine
- Meanwhile, remove and discard any brown or leathery leaves from the romaine, keeping only the best whole leaves.
- Trim the bottom of the leaves before washing and drying them
- Dry the leaves with a spinner, wrap the greens in paper towels and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve
- In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, anchovies, and garlic
- Add the eggs, a few sprinkles of cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until completely emulsified.
- Add the lemon juice, making sure to strain out any seeds before adding to the dressing. Whisk again
- Taste the dressing by itself and then with a leaf of lettuce (or a crouton, if you'd like)
- Adjust the flavors as needed
- (You'll have around 1 ½ cups of dressing)
- Assemble and Serve
- Place the romaine in a large salad bowl
- Add most of the dressing, folding and tossing gently until every leaf is coated (add more dressing if needed)
- Dust with most of the remaining parmesan, add most of the croutons and toss again
- To serve, lay out large cold plates, then layer in larger, then medium and then small leaves of the dressed romaine on each plate.
- Add the last splash of dressing to the remaining croutons before evenly distributing them on the plates.
- Add a last dusting of cheese to each