Food memories can be very powerful. For instance, I can remember where I was the first time I ever ate spaghetti carbonara, I can recall the restaurant where I first ordered duck confit (now easily my “Last Supper” choice…more on this later), and I have a vivid memory of the care with which I chose, and prepared, the first meal I ever cooked for my wife.
So much of who we are, and recollections we have of times spent with family and friends, are intimately connected to our memories of the foods we shared with these people. As a parent, I’m enjoying watching my kids begin to build their own catalogue of food memories, and wonder where and when they will hit the rewind button, and replay them in later years. I observed first hand the power of one of my son Boris’ fledgling food memories just the other day. We were out of town, traveling on our annual “guys getaway” trip the week after school let out, when he started asking me about where we’d be eating on this junket. We were traveling to a destination that we had visited before, and he was VERY concerned that I had made the appropriate dinner reservations in advance (such his father’s son, in a scary sort of way, I must say).
He informed me that there was one restaurant in particular that we just HAD to dine at again. When I asked why, he responded (in fact, all three boys did) that the Cafe’ Martinique served the BEST Caesar Salad on the planet, and that in their minds, the success of the whole trip would be at risk if we couldn’t secure a table!
I’m not kidding, this was a big deal to them.
Good thing I had called ahead. We had our reservation, arrived at the duly appointed hour, ordered our salads, and I’m grateful to report that the caesars didn’t disappoint (I'd hate to think of the kerfuffle that would have ensued had the much anticipated salads, shall we say, sucked). The romaine was fresh and crisp, the dressing light and lemony, and most importantly, the salad was perfectly dressed, not served drowning and limp, as is the sad case in most restaurants these days. It really was excellent. We were lucky enough during the balance of the trip to be served a few more meals that will unquestionably be added to our collective food memories. In fact, we were so blessed with terrific meals, that the boys have been begging me to scour the internet for recipes of a few of the dishes we enjoyed the most. If I can find them, I’ll be certain to share them here in a later post.
Upon returning home, we found that one of the few things really doing well in our vegetable garden this season, is our romaine lettuce. Everything else seems stunted by comparison, victims of the unusually cool and rainy spring that we have been suffering throughout the Northeast. So, in an effort to enjoy some of our bounty before it too starts to wilt and rot, and as part of my continuing quest to teach the kids that with a little love, some simple techniques, and wonderfully fresh ingredients, they too can craft a meal worthy of producing some indelible food memories of their own; we present to you OUR twist on a caesar salad.
Try this recipe and let us know what you think. How does it rank among others you have eaten? We’d love to hear where you’ve had a great caesar, or even better, share with us your recipe for one, because I know three young men (and a couple of gals) who would love to try it!
Thanks and Cheers! – Steve
Some general thoughts:
The first key to making a really good caesar salad is to have very fresh, clean and chilled romaine lettuce leaves. Next, you WILL want to go through the minimal effort to make your own croutons. They are some of the simplest things you will ever make, will keep for a week or so in an air-tight container, and using them will pay huge dividends in the taste and texture of your final salad. Finally, if you really want to pull-out all the stops, make the mayonnaise for the dressing from scratch. I know, its a scary proposition, right up there with making your own bérnaise, but once you try it, you’ll never go back. If you don’t have the time, or inclination to go the “mayo from scratch” route, no worries, this dressing is still delicious with a good quality store-bought mayonnaise, like Hellman’s. If you do want to take the leap and make your own, Michael Ruhlman has a great recipe and photos of the process on his blog, click here to see it.
After washing and drying your romaine, you can decide to go one of two ways with the salad. You can either leave the leaves whole, and present a more formal sort of “deconstructed” salad, or you can tear the leaves into bite-sized chunks for one that is “tossed”.
a formal take on a caesar salad
Either way you go, place your cleaned and dried whole or torn lettuce leaves into a bowl, cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel, and place in the fridge to chill while you make your croutons and dressing.
Once the dressing and croutons are ready, place your greens in a large salad bowl (if making a tossed salad) and add dressing a few spoonfuls at a time while tossing, until all the lettuce is lightly coated. This dressing recipe will make WAY more than you need for a single salad, (unless you are hosting a huge party and are making a gigunda- honkin’- monster of a thing), so don’t just dump the dressing into the salad bowl, it’ll be a real slimy mess if you do.
To finish, toss some croutons onto your plated salads, and shave a little fresh parmesan on top for good measure.
Smokey Caesar Dressing with Rosemary
By : Steven Dunn
1 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store bought)
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons
anchovy paste, or 3 anchovy filets, finely chopped
Scant 1/4 teaspoon pimenton (smoked spanish paprika)
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
Zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Up to 1/4 cup of water to thin the dressing (if desired)
Whisk the first 11 ingredients together in a large bowl. Check for seasoning, then add enough water to achieve the consistency you desire. Re-check the seasoning before serving.
9 cups of hearty artisanal bread such as baguette or ciabatta, cut into 1/2” cubes
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary (or other herb of your choice)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 375 F degrees.
Place all ingredients into a large bowl, and toss with your hands until all the bread cubes are coated with the oil. Pour the cubes onto a baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Place the sheet tray in the oven and bake the croutons until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on a rack to room temperature before placing in an air-tight container for storage. This recipe will also make more than you will need for a single salad, but these things are so good, you’ll be very happy to have extras.