Here’s the reason why I was celebrating Cuatro de Mayo last weekend instead of Cinco de Mayo. My friends Hsien & Katie threw their first dinner party at their house last Saturday; it was a potluck, and the theme was Italy.
I’ve had a lot of experience throwing potlucks in my office, so I know that you tend to get lots of main dishes, but no sides or salads. Hsien asked me to bring dessert, but I also offered to bring a caesar salad, because I had a feeling this was going to be carb city.
I was right, and it was delicious! We had:
- Toasted olive bread with sliced tomato, avocado and parmesan; three kinds of olives; proscuitto and melon (for an appetizer)
- Lasagna #1 (with homemade pasta and mushrooms)
- Lasagna #2 (with beef and ricotta)
- Chicken Piccata
- Spaghetti Puttanesca
- Meatballs in tomato sauce with basil and parmesan
Plus, my salad. Let’s talk about that for one second. If you think I showed up with salad in a bag and a bottle of Kraft Caesar salad dressing (I have witnessed people bringing this to a potluck), then you just don’t know me at all. It’s so easy to make a kick ass caesar salad, which my friend Kathleen taught me many years ago. The keys are fresh romaine, homemade dressing, lots of croutons, and tons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Let’s address each of those components separately, because obviously I take this kind of thing very seriously:
- Fresh romaine. This is crucial. Please do not buy salad in a bag! It tastes so weird, right? I buy a big leafy head of romaine, and tear it by hand (sometimes it turns brown faster when you cut it with a knife). I wash it in a salad spinner and drain the water. I actually keep my greens in the salad spinner with the lid on, in the fridge. They’ll stay fresh for almost a week. (I make one exception to the salad in a bag rule, and that’s for coleslaw mix because I don’t have time in my life to shred copious amounts of cabbage).
- Homemade dressing. I could write a whole blog post on how much I hate bottled salad dressing, so I’ll save that gem for another day. Kathleen has been making this for me for years whenever I visit and it’s the best ever! She makes it by taste, but of course I need a recipe (below). The key here is lots of fresh garlic and freshly ground black pepper. It’s so easy and so good and blows Kraft out of the water.
- Lots of croutons. Besides the dressing, my favourite part of a caesar salad are the croutons. For me, this is because it’s like having garlic bread all up in your salad. Whether you make your own or buy them (the PC Zesty Garlic ones are my fave for a caesar salad), the key is volume. Kathleen doesn’t just sprinkle a few on top; she adds many many handfuls.
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese. As a tot growing up in the 80s, my family had many delicious spaghetti and meatball nights. A key component of these meals was the green jar of Kraft parmesan “cheese” that my brothers and I would just DUMP all over our plates. I’m scared to google that stuff now, because I’m pretty sure the ingredients would give me nightmares. So, now I buy a wedge of delicious parmigiano-reggiano and grate lots overtop of the salad before tossing everything together. It adds a buttery, salty level of deliciousness.
- Crumbled bacon. I ran out of time for this component, but crispy bacon pieces in a caesar salad just take it to the next level.
Okay, evidently I have a lot to say on the subject of caesar salad. Let’s wrap this up. Here’s the recipe I use for my dressing. The base is mayo because I don’t like the idea of eating raw egg yolk, but Katy uses it in her dressing and I always eat it to no ill effect. This is one of my favourite summer dinners, especially with fresh bruschetta once tomatoes and basil come into season.
Caesar Salad Dressing
Source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen (she uses olive oil, but I find it too strong)
2 tbsp mayo
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced (I grate mine with a microplane)
1/2 tsp worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other flavourless oil, or olive oil)
+ salt and pepper to taste
- Add everything to a small jar or tupperware container. Seal it tightly and shake it like a polaroid picture.