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Caesar Salad

In this age of micro greens and heirloom radishes, homegrown basil and truffle vinaigrette, is there anything more retro than caesar salad? It’s an all-romaine salad — no baby spinach! — with croutons, anchovies, and a thick, eggy, garlicky yellow dressing coating the leaves all but delicately. You may as well be sitting at Listrani’s an old-school red tablecloth Italian joint that’s been around at least since I was a kid. The waiter always says “Bongiorno!” and then carries on the rest of the conversation in English. You order spaghetti with red sauce or eggplant parmesan — the two lunch specials — and start, of course, with the house caesar. It’s mighty retro.

I’m normally one for ultra-green salads dressed with a very light hand. But lately, I’ve had an inexplicable craving for good old Caesar salad. Tomatoes haven’t yet come back to the market yet, and the cucumbers aren’t quite crisp, so it’s nice to have a salad whose ingredients are all available right now, that requires little improvisation or substitution, and whose main ingredient isn’t fennel. (Not that I don’t love fennel.)

Let’s face it: when spring vegetables return to the market, we’ll probably all forget about Caesar. That’s why now is the perfect time to make this standby.

Note: It may be Passover around here, but posts will still magically appear on NDP as I work through a very large backlog of recent cooking projects. Stay tuned!

Caesar Salad
adapted from The New Best Recipe

Garlic Croutons:
2 large cloves garlic , peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups 1/2-inch white bread cubes (from a baguette or country loaf)

1 large egg
4 tablespoons lemon juice from 1-2 medium lemons
1.5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon table salt
several grinds black pepper
2 small cloves garlic , pressed (1/4 teaspoon)
4 flat anchovy fillets, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium heads romaine lettuce (large outer leaves removed) or 2 large romaine hearts; washed, dried, and torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 10 cups, lightly packed)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

For croutons: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix garlic, salt, and oil in small bowl; set aside for 20 minutes. Spread bread cubes out over small baking sheet. Drizzle oil through fine-mesh strainer evenly onto bread; toss to coat. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet to room temperature. (Croutons should be stored in an airtight container.)

For the dressing: Bring water to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Carefully lower whole egg into water; cook 45 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, crack egg into small bowl with all other dressing ingredients except oil; whisk until smooth. Add oil in slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Adjust seasonings. (Dressing may refrigerate in airtight container for 1 day; shake before using.)

Place lettuce in large bowl; drizzle with half of dressing, then toss to coat lightly. Sprinkle with cheese, remaining dressing, and croutons; toss to coat well. Divide among individual plates; serve immediately.

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  • Rocquie March 29, 2010,

    Beautiful salad. Beautiful photographs. You are right, it is the perfect time of year for a classic Caesar Salad.