A New Year Tradition with Classic Caesar Salad

Serves 4

Happy New Year!

Yes, I am fully aware that it is almost February. Another month, and indeed beginning of a new year, has gone by since my last post. However, in this case, I think it’s acceptable, as this post is the epitome of slow food. That being said, I will make a concerted effort to post more frequently in 2016 – but I don’t dare resolve to.

My good friend Alanna has a tradition of making spaghetti and meatballs on New Years Day, and since we’ve begun to stay in Vancouver for the holidays we’ve joined in this celebration. This is about spending time with friends and enjoying comforting, slow cooked Italian food – made entirely from scratch. Pictured below is our scrumptious meal from January 1, 2016 that featured homemade pasta, this fresh baked bread, A16 Cookbook’s Monday Night Meatballs and today’s recipe – classic Caesar salad.

To Alanna’s meatball tradition, my contribution of this salad couldn’t be more fitting. Not only is it the perfect spaghetti accompaniment, it is synonymous with tradition for me since it’s the first real recipe (Jell-o being the first otherwise) that ever I learned to make. I was about 6 years old and helping my mom to make dinner one night. She told me step-by-step exactly how to make it and from then on Caesar salad became my specialty.

My mom originally learned this recipe from the owner of an Italian café near her old work, where she’d often order it for lunch.  It was so simple, but so good. The owner graciously shared the ingredient list and approximate quantities with her. After making it once or twice with her guidance, I took full ownership and wouldn’t dare let my mom be the one to make it, let alone allow her to offer suggestions for improvement.  I was going to perfect it, and try my mom’s patience while I was at it. We must have eaten it at least three or four times a week.

I really owe this salad a lot: for providing me with autonomy and confidence in the kitchen at such a young age; for igniting a passion for vegetables and, more specifically, salads; and most importantly, it is this recipe that taught me how to cook without a recipe.  With this in mind, like so many other posts on this blog, I invite you to experiment and create your own tradition.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 egg yolk* 
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (grainy or regular – your choice)
  • 1-2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (optional)**
  • A few dashes Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • A good amount of fresh cracked black pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Pinch of sea salt (if needed) to taste***
  •  1 bunch of romaine lettuce OR equal amount of kale, OR combination of both
  • Croutons (recipe below)

Method

Make the dressing in the bowl you will serve the salad. Alternatively, make quick work of it using a small kitchen chopper, or a liquid measuring cup using an immersion blender.

Wisk the first seven ingredients, through lemon juice, together until well combined. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until the mixture is emulsified. It will be creamy and a little thick.

Grind in pepper, to taste, and whisk about 1/3 cup of the Parmesan, reserving the rest to sprinkle on top.

Taste and adjust as necessary. You may need to add a little more oil or vinegar/lemon juice to balance. At this time, add salt if needed.

Just before serving, toss in greens to your preferred dressing to salad ratio. Sprinkle with reserved Parmesan and enjoy. If using kale, the salad can stand to be tossed 10 minutes or so before serving, which allows the acid in the dressing to tenderize the kale.

CROUTONS

What would one of my blog posts be without a tip to avoid food waste? Everyone loves homemade croutons, and they are a great way to use up stale bread, especially the end pieces.

This is more a guide than a recipe, so adjust ingredient quantities according to your preference, and the amount of bread you’re using. My preference for spices includes a little oregano, some Mexican chili powder and a dash each of garlic powder and smoked hot paprika.

To prepare, slice bread into ¾-inch cubes. Place in a bowl and toss with extra virgin olive oil, herbs and spices of your choosing, and a dash of sea salt.

Place in a 350˚F oven for 10 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove from oven and adjust seasoning to taste.  

Recipe Notes

* Use fresh egg yolks and do not store this dressing for more than about a day. If you want to make up a bigger batch to eat over a few days, you can hard boil an egg(or two if doubling) and use the yolks from that instead. It will require a bit more work to fully incorporate the cooked yolk, but the result will be just as good.

** Anchovies are a classic ingredient in Caesar salads, but if you’re truly opposed, omit and add a few extra dashes of Worchestershire.

*** Salt is an essential ingredient in cooking, but in this case keep in mind that the Dijon, anchovy, Worchestershire, and Parmesan are all very salty ingredients in their own right, so you won’t need much.