When I met my husband, he was not yet the Executive Chef I know and love today. He was an apprentice line cook at a semi-veggie restaurant in our provincial capital. I loved taking my friends and family on Wednesday nights to sample his latest dish that he had created for their weekly appetizer special. My best gal, Lassette, STILL talks about the corn broth with cheese filled raviolis, even though it was over a (gulp) decade ago that she sampled it.
One of my favourite things about those days was when my boyfriend (tee hee) would call me at the end of his shift to see if he could bring me anything. Most nights I would reply with,”Oh, you know what I want, baby.” And he did, and he would deliver. He’d come home, I’d hear his key in the lock and cross the room to the door before he even had it open. I’d give him a kiss hello (if I remembered) and grab the bag from his hand. I’d already have our only mixing bowl out on the counter with utensils nearby. The first container held fresh, crisp romaine leaves that almost filled the bowl. Next, a smaller container chockfull of house made croutons, that started their life cycle as focaccia bread and then where blessed with copious quantities of garlic and olive oil. After that came the dressing (two containers if I was extra lucky), thick, creamy golden goodness to be scraped out over the leaves and croutons. Then I tossed it all together gently, to spread the dressing around in order to delicately coat each leaf and crispy cube of golden bread. Finally, the last container holding freshly grated Romano cheese was sprinkled over the slick surface.
Forgoing plates, and armed with forks, we’d take the single step to the couch and eat directly from the bowl. Those were the good old days, before we had a car, a kid or a clue. I think of those days fondly, and when I get to reminiscing, I am usually seized with a craving for that Caesar Salad of yore. Fortunately, the restaurant published a cookbook with their Caesar Salad dressing recipe. It’s pretty much the only way I can get my Chefs to eat salad without complaint (or conversation, we are all to busy enjoying). I usually add chicken to make it the full meal deal.
The croutons themselves are snacktastic. I don’t make them from focaccia, I use either sourdough (left over from making French Toast) or Italian (the bottom half only, the top gets used for garlic bread). I’ll freeze the cubed bread if I’m not using right away and let it fully thaw before letting them soak in olive oil flavoured with garlic, salt and pepper. I tend to snack on them while making the dressing, just the ugly ones of course.
I have the ingredients for the dressing memorized: roasted garlic, fresh garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, dijon mustard, capers, anchovies, salt and pepper. The roasted garlic is easy to do: cut off the tops of two whole heads, place it in the centre of a square of aluminum foil, douse it in olive oil and s&p liberally, pop it in the oven at 450 for 45 minutes (I love the symmetry of those numbers). I measure everything else by taste. Once the roasted garlic is ready it goes into the blender (well, right now I’ve been using my immersion blender, apparently I wore my pastel yellow Kitchenaid blender out). Half a lemon gets its juice squozen in (yes it’s a new word, feel free to use it), one large, or two small sliced cloves of fresh garlic, a nice pile of parmesan falls gently from the grater, a squidge (second vocab word of the day) of dijon mustard, five or six capers,one single anchovy (oops, suddenly not vegetarian), a few grinds of pepper, a generous pinch of kosher salt and a splash of olive oil. Then the blending/tasting/blending/tasting begins! The quantities are never exact because the flavours change with the season, or the brand. Somtimes I use oil packed capers and anchovies, sometimes salt packed. This changes the intensity of the flavour and the impact to the dressing. Lemons can be sweeter or drier, garlic can be subtle or strong. This is where the tasting comes in.
Once the first round of all the ingredients are in and all blended together, a tiny spoon drops a taste on your tongue. Whatever ingredient you can taste individually doesn’t need to be increased. So, just keep adding more of everything you don’t taste until it’s a beautifully balanced blend of all the players. The best way to tell when you’re done is when you just start eating, rather than tasting, the dressing (you just may be too hungry to care, but that’s fine). Leftover dressing makes a great dip for carrot sticks or croutons the next day. Just kidding about the croutons, they wouldn’t last more than a day around my house!