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For most of the 20th century, through the 1970s, iceberg was the most popular variety of lettuce in the United States accounted for 95% of the lettuce grown in this country. Romaine became popular in the U.S. thanks to the increasing taste for the Caesar salad. More than 16,000 acres of romaine was being grown by the mid-90s, and today this figure stands at more than 80,000.
The dish has a controversial background with an array of people claiming to have invented it. One story states that it was first served in a Tijuana restaurant by Caesar Cardini. According to Cardini’s daughter Rosa, he created this recipe in the kitchen of his restaurant in 1924 when he was short on supplies and used what he had on hand to come up with a dish for hungry customers. He prepared it at the customers’ table to add excitement to the event. The salad was originally created so diners could pick it up in their fingers on a whole lettuce leaf. Patrons tired of getting their fingers messy, so eventually Cardini took to tearing up the leaves to offer the option of eating it with a fork.
Various people associated with Cardini, including business partner Paul Maggiora and Cardini’s brother Alex, and an assortment of busboys and waiters at Cardini’s restaurant also claim they invented the dish.
Regardless of how it originated, the Caesar salad remains a delicious appetizer. This recipe comes to us from Epicurious.com. And if you do choose to eat the Caesar salad using whole leaves as per the reputed original style, you might want to wash your hands with Seventh Generation Mandarin Purifying Hand Wash, to remove any traces of garlic scent and keep your hands feeling soft.
Julia's Caesar Salad
- 18 to 24 crisp, narrow leaves from the hearts of 2 heads of romaine lettuce, or a package of romaine hearts (about 1 pound)
- 1 cup plain toasted croutons
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup or more excellent olive oil
- 1 large egg
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 whole lemon, halved and seeded
- Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, imported Parmigiano-Reggiano only
- Special equipment: A large mixing bowl; a small frying pan
Preparing the salad components:
You will probably need 2 large heads of romaine for 3 people — or use a commercially prepared package of "romaine hearts," if they appear fresh and fine. From a large head remove the outside leaves until you get down to the cone where the leaves are 4 to 7 inches in length — you'll want 6 to 8 of these leaves per serving. Separate the leaves and wash them carefully to keep them whole, roll them loosely in clean towels, and keep refrigerated until serving time. (Save the remains for other salads — fortunately, romaine keeps reasonably well under refrigeration.
- To flavor the croutons, crush the garlic clove with the flat of a chef's knife, sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash again with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée.
- Scrape the purée into the frying pan, add another tablespoon of oil, and warm over low-medium heat. Add the croutons and toss for a minute or two to infuse them with the garlic oil, then remove from the heat. (For a milder garlic flavor, you can strain the purée though a small sieve into a pan before adding the extra croutons. Discard the bits of garlic.)
- To coddle the egg, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer. Pierce the large end of the egg with a pushpin to prevent cracking, then simmer for exactly 1 minute.
Mixing and serving the Caesar:
Dress the salad just before serving. Have ready all the dressing ingredients and a salad fork and spoon for tossing.
- Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the romaine leaves and toss to coat, lifting the leaves from the bottom and turning them towards you, so they tumble over like a wave. Sprinkle them with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, toss once or twice, then add the lemon juice and several drops of the Worcestershire, and toss again. Taste for seasoning, and add more, if needed.
- Crack the egg and drop it right on the romaine leaves, then toss to break it up and coat the leaves. Sprinkle on the cheese, toss briefly, then add the croutons (and the garlicky bits in the pan, if you wish) and toss for the last time, just to mix them into the salad.
- Arrange 6 or more leaves in a single layer on individual plates, scatter the croutons all around, and serve.