Hail Caesar! by Mike Verano

Easy Caesar with Chicken

Easy Caesar with Chicken

Lettuce rejoice, spring is just around the corner and that means it’s time to go green again! As we get ready to welcome back the salad days of belonging to Off the Vine, it seems like a good time pay tribute to the gold standard of the eating healthy movement. You can have your Cobb, Chef, Greek, French, Mesclun, Tossed, Wedge, Niçoise, Mâche, etc. but as far as I’m concerned, the emperor of them all is the caesar salad.

According to Wikipedia, the salad’s creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego but also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition. His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the dish when a Fourth of July 1924 rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing by the chef.

I prefer the story, that I just made up, that it’s named after the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who, upon conquering Egypt, was heard to exclaim, “I came, I saw, I conquered! Now does anyone have something green to eat, perhaps with a little parmesan, lemon and anchovies?” However, I’m willing to give Mr. Cardini his due, and do hereby decree that I have not come to bury his salad, but to praise and eat it.

Let’s be clear about this, when it comes to this salad, or just about any salad for that matter, what we’re really talking about is the dressing. Let’s face it, anyone can throw some greens down, toss in a few stray items, and serve it up. Without the right dressing, we’re not really talking about a salad, are we? Sure you can squeeze a lemon over a plate of fresh veggies and call it a salad, but you can also drop a slice of lemon into water and call it lemonade. We both know you’re just kidding yourself.

When it comes to caesar salad dressings, a quick Google search brings up 35 brands of dressing to choose from. It would not be an overestimation that, between my wife and I, we have tried at least 20 of those over the years. And this does not take into account the numerous caesar salads eaten at restaurants in search of the holy grail of dressings. More often than not, this quest led to a satisfied, but still unfulfilled, “That was pretty good, but I would have liked it more if . . .”

Then, like many true discoveries, we stumbled upon a recipe that has not only trumped those earlier efforts, it has us looking forward to the making it so much that I actually asked Kath if we could camp out in front of Off the Vine and wait for the first shipment of romaine. After checking my Komubucha tea to make sure it had not turned to alcohol, Kath assured me that would not be necessary and, in the meantime, I should go into the kitchen and whip up a batch of the dressing. (I’ve finally figured out that being sent to the kitchen is the adult equivalent of “Go to your room.”)

The recipe that follows is so simple as to warrant the tag Easy Caesar. Of course, you can always go Cardini with it and toss it in a wooden bowl at the table, while regaling your guests with tales of how long it took you to create this masterpiece. Regardless of how you serve it, my guess is that after trying it you will find yourself actually making excuses to have it again and again. My current favorite is, “What in the world are we going to do with all these anchovies?”

Easy Caesar
Ingredients
4 anchovy fillets
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 1/3 cups mayonnaise
2 tbsp plus 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp (or more) fresh lemon juice
3 hearts of romaine, coarsely torn (about 12 cups)
2 cups croutons

Directions
1. Blend anchovy fillets, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and hot pepper sauce in processor until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. Whisk in mayonnaise, 2 tbsp cheese and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and more lemon juice, if desired.
2. Place romaine in large bowl. Add 3/4 cup dressing; toss to coat. Sprinkle with croutons, remaining 1/4 cup cheese. (Some cracked black pepper is a nice touch if you want some added zip)
3. If you’re a purist, you will also add a few fresh anchovies at this point.

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