Winter in New England is tough. But slipping on black ice or climbing over a snow drift to get to a sidewalk isn’t what frustrates me the most about this season. It’s the fresh vegetable situation. Oh, how I long for August and its ripe tomatoes and corn straight from the cob. I’ve been hungering for salads recently, and have been contemplating persimmons and escarole. But for now, a Caesar salad will do quite nicely.
It’s been a few years since I realized I could make Caesar salad at home. The recipe base I use is from an ancient Cook’s Illustrated, but I do wander away from it after a certain point. (Eight grindings of fresh black pepper? Really?) They suggest coddling the egg, as does The New York Times Cookbook, although Zuni Cafe, which sells more Caesar salad than anything else on their menu, does not. Neither use Worcestershire sauce, although I do, and I really do think it brings it to the next level. It is not key, however.
The key to Caesar salad is anchovies. Anchovies, you might be thinking to yourself, are NOT vegetarian. But here’s the thing:I called this blog “mostly vegetarian” so I could sneak around the anchovy issue. If you’re a fish eater but are squeamish about anchovies, please give them a shot. Anchovies are the cheapest flavor packets I can think of. Ancient Romans doused everything in garum, and many Asian cuisines wouldn’t be the same without fish sauce. When I bite into something with an anchovy in it, I am always struck by all the complex layers of flavor they add.
In most scenarios, you won’t even have to touch them. If you’re cooking with them, beat them in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. You can get a can of anchovies for less than $3 at any grocery store. Ocean State Job Lot used to have glass jars of anchovies that were really special but hasn’t had them for a while. I toss the remaining anchovies, can and all, into a plastic bag in the fridge. Let them sit for a few minutes at room temperature and the oil will return to form. But please be warned: anchovies are incredibly ugly. I took numerous shots of mine and realize there was no way to make them look pretty. None.
Another thing that I love most about this dish is that it is a quintessential pantry recipe. You should have all these things on hand, so when you start to miss out-of-season veggies, you can whip this up in minutes. It’s even quicker if you don’t insist on the croutons.
Caesar Salad Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated September/October 1997
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups 1/2-inch white bread cubes (from a baguette or country loaf)
1 large egg
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of salt
A few grindings of fresh black pepper
2 small garlic cloves, pressed
3 or 4 flat anchovy fillets, minced (I do mine in a mortar and pestle with the garlic at the same time)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium heads romaine lettuce or 2 large romaine hearts, washed, dried and torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 10 cups, lightly packed)
1/3 cup grated Parmasean cheese
1. For the croutons: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix garlic, salt and oil in a small bowl; set aside for 20 minutes. Spread bread cubes out over small baking sheet. Drizzle oil onto bread; toss to coat. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet to room temperature. (Croutons can be stored in airtight container for up to 1 day.)
2. For the dressing: Bring water to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Carefully lower whole egg into water; cook for 1 minute. 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 for seasoning. (Dressing may be refrigerated in airtight container for 1 day; shake before using.)
3. 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. Serve immediately.