It’s almost too hot to eat, especially after cutting the lawn with a push-mower at noon. Caesar salad to the (appetite) rescue: cold and pungent, with crunch and snap. These days, the Caesar salad’s reputation suffers, thanks to legions of insipid, nearly tasteless Caesar dressings. Coffeehouses, cafes, fast food burger joints, quickie sandwich shops, and cafeterias churn out millions of Caesars each day across the US. Most of these Caesars bear little resemblance to the genuine article, containing no anchovies, no raw egg, no velvety cheese & oil emulsion. Further corrupting the platonic Caesarian ideal was the low-carb craze, spurring the addition of needless proteins (most often grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp) stacked atop the salad, ruining its simple, sublime balance. Fortunately, a few purist holdouts exist, making Caesars tableside with a 1950s flourish, or sticking to the original, simple but perfect model (I’m thinking of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco).
Get back to basics with a from-scratch Caesar. First, make some simple, fresh croutons: cube some leftover bread, toss with olive oil, and toast in the oven until crispy (not hard, but crunchy). Then wash & dry romaine lettuce, and break up the larger leaves into smaller pieces.
Now for the dressing, inspired by Zuni Cafe’s version (sized for two generous servings with a little left over for late)r: in a small mixing bowl, pour 1/3 cup olive oil. To the oil, add 1 T red wine vinegar, 5-6 anchovy fillets (mash thoroughly with a fork), 1 tsp minced garlic, 2 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice, lots of black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Whisk to blend, then vigorously whisk in one cold, raw egg. Once the mixture thickens, stir in a generous handful of finely ground parmesan cheese. Place the lettuce in a large bowl, pour in 2/3 of the dressing, and toss, coating all pieces evenly. Arrange the lettuce on chilled plates. Add the croutons to the mixing bowl, along with a small splash of the remaining dressing. Divide the croutons between the plates and sprinkle with a little more grated parmesan.
Oh, I do miss a good Caesar. Genusa’s in Monroe used to do an amazing one. The best part was that they’d rub a clove of garlic in the bowl or plate before serving the salad. Delicious!