It’s a funny thing about Caesar Salads. They bring me right back to waiting tables/bartending or working in a restaurant kitchen. Many of the “family meals” when I worked in restaurants consisted of a salad, burgers, pizza or pasta. There was never any of the slaved over staff dinners that is being touted in the new cookbook “OFF THE MENU: Staff Meals from America’s Favorite Restaurants”. (Lucky them!) In the almost 2 decades of not working in eateries, clearly the times have changed since I plied my trade for tips or peeled potatoes. (I wonder how many publicists actually worked in a commercial kitchen?)
Secondly, I love the salad…when made right. They have a wonderful garlicky and salty crunch that reminds me of eating a potato chip. It’s that bite of lettuce snapping and saltiness from the dissolved anchovy. (Yep, a Caesar with anchovies…kind of novel, huh?) And, then made with a coddled egg, (yep, again a little more novelty… made with an egg) just cooked so the yolk is still runny to give it the unctuouness, clinging to the Romaine and holding the freshly grated Parmesan.
Thirdly, bringing me back to where I started, the family meal at a restaurant…when the dinner shift began at one of the five New York City restaurants that I had worked in during the 80s and early 90s, and my co-workers, some of who are friends to this day, would talk about their mornings and afternoons, of auditions, of gallery installations, of stapling resumes to headshots, of writing….or of getting over last night’s hangover…of being in my early 20s.
Lastly, they remind me of warm New York City summer nights with blaring taxis horns, beautifully curvaceous women wobbling in excessively high shoes, worked out men in tight T-shirts and baggy jeans, neon lights, shots of tequila and one of the happiest times in my life. (Of course, I wish I knew it then.)
Who knew that all these memories came in a salad and some nourishment too?
YOU WILL NEED (2 servings):
1 clove garlic
2 anchovies (or paste).
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 juice of one lemon
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan (However much you want)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce
Croutons (Store bought or homemade. Make it easy on yourself. Do what you want and have time to do.)
GRILL THE LETTUCE (Or skip this altogether and chill lettuce for about 5 minutes in the freezer. If you do this, just tear the lettuce apart just before you dress it.)
1. Heat grill.
2. Peel outer leaves of romaine off until you get to the heart. (Or you can leave a couple of the dark leaves on.) Cut in half.
3. Brush cut side with olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Place on grill until slightly charred and wilted.
5. Remove from grill.
6. Arrange prettily on plates, cut side up.
LET’S MAKE THE DRESSING:
1. Using the blade of a knife, carefully make a paste with the anchovy and garlic. Just mash it together and add a little…just a drop or two of oil.
2. Put this paste and the remaining ingredients… egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice… into a mixing bowl or food processor.
3. Whisk or process for about 30 to 40 seconds until the mixture is smooth. (If whisking, go a little longer. If you are really anal about it, pull out the timer and set it for a minute…and whisk.)
4. Now add the olive oil slowly until it becomes mixed and a little thicker, similar to a thin aoili (this may not happen if you are using a whisk…but give it a try.)
5. Add some Parmesan, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Get a pepper grinder if you don’t have one. It makes a huge difference.) You can refrigerate the dressing if you make a little too much.
LET’S FINISH THIS PUPPY UP:
1. Arrange the heads of lettuce cut side up.
2. Pour the dressing in a ‘Z’ pattern over lettuce.
3. Use enough dressing for you to be satisfied and happy. Dress the the salad to your liking but don’t over do it. (Remember, you pay that trainer at the gym a lot of money.)
4. Sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan.
5. Arrange croutons, ever so….
7. Take a picture and upload to Instagram. (Most important part. You can use my photo if you don’t think yours is photogenic. You have my permission.)