On Saturday morning, I pushed my clunky tall boots and heavy down jackets into the back of our coat closet with trepidation. My ‘Weather Channel’ App (which I obsessively consult before so much lifting one single toe out of bed) encouragingly informed me that for the next ten days we were to see spotty sunshine and temperatures climbing the mercury up into the high 50’s – positively balmy, all things considered.
I jumped out of bed and opened the shutters to reveal a gorgeous day, one of those where you can smell the promise of Spring in the air: that familiar and cumulative aroma of eager green trees pushing forth buds and the damp and sweet smell of new soil. The air still had a crisp undertone which necessitated a light jacket, but when walking in the sun and on the right side of the street, it was glorious.
I have to tell you – when done right, New York really knows how to knock Spring out of the ballpark.
I spent my day combing my favorite antique store in the East Village for new finds, snacking on a lunch of catfish banh mi and grilled corn at Num Pang, and enjoying cold beers while basking in the warm sun with friends on the rooftop of a neighborhood bar. It was the perfect Saturday. To further take advantage of the fine weather (and as you’ll see often over the warmer months) I fired up our grill and made a grilled Caesar salad.
I love Caesar salad. (Actually, I should rephrase that.) I love a good Caesar salad. For something that requires very few basic components, there is a amazingly wide variance to what acutally lands on my plate each time I order it. Of course there must always hearts of romaine lettuce, parmigiano cheese, and croutons to call a salad a “Caesar” – generally most varieties manage to eek out those few things without issue. But when it comes to the dressing, the quality of the cheese, and the provenience of the croutons, therein arises the opportunity to careen off course, crashing and burning into the grandstands.
When it comes to the parmigiano cheese – break out the good stuff, and grate it fresh right before serving. Bottled mayo-based dressings are abombinations – I much prefer a classic olive oil based version with a raw egg and anchovies. Before that alone sends you squealing up to close this window and never read another entry again – hear me out: you will not taste the anchovy (it’s not fishy in the least) and if you have fresh eggs and are generally healthy, the raw egg shouldn’t pose any health problems. Making fresh croutons by brushing a baguette with garlicky oil, topping with parmigiano, and then broiling makes the perfect little life rafts to float atop the salad, catching all that delicious dressing.
To put this salad into summer mode, the romaine is first grilled for a few minutes over high heat before being tossed with its counterparts. This renders the leaves toasty and warm on the edges but still crisp and fresh tasting on the inside. It is so, so delicious. Diet food? Probably not. But you won’t eat this every day. It is a wonderful side dish to have when you are entertaining, or just when you are looking for something special to serve on a warm and gorgeous night.
As they say ‘April Showers bring May flowers’ and if history has taught us anything we should have known we were in for a few spells of precipitation. Today is rainy, cool, and wet – but it’s to be expected, after all. I was careful not to slide too many heavy items in front of my jackets and boots lest Spring decide us minions were having too much fun wearing sunglasses on roof decks drinking cocktails in t-shirts, and remind us that we’re not quite there yet.
But we’re so close.
Grilled Caesar Salad
Gourmet June 2007
2 flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1 small garlic clove, chopped*
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices baguette
1 large egg
Juice of one lemon (approx 2 Tbsp)
3 hearts of romaine (18 ounces)
¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven broiler to high. Purée the anchovies, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over medium heat (gas) or a moderate flame if using charcoal.
Brush both sides of the baguette slices with some of anchovy dressing, sprinkle each slice with a pinch of parmigiano cheese (about ¼ cup total) and broil until the cheese is melted and the croutons are golden brown. Remove from heat and place to side/turn off broiler.
Add the egg and lemon juice to the dressing in blender or food processor and pulse until well emulsified, about 1 minute.
Cut romaine hearts in half lengthwise, drizzle lightly with olive oil, then grill with the cut sides down (covered only if using a gas grill) until grill marks just appear, about 2 minutes.
Cut the croutons in half. To serve, Place the grilled hearts cut and charred side up on a platter. scatter with the croutons, and drizzle with the dressing. Dust with the remaining parmigiano cheese (about ½ cup), and serve immediately.
*This had quite a garlicky bite, so be wary adding any more garlic than this. Next time I would even consider scaling this back to half….but only if I had kissing plans for later.