Getting Fresh: Reveling in Romaine
There's much to choose from this week at local markets --- pea shoots, chive flowers, squash blossoms and more of those luscious strawberries. But before the weather gets too summery, I wanna give a shout out to romaine lettuce, a coolish weather crop that's currently showing off its elongated green-leaf finery.
My main man Romaine. What a pleasure to see you again. And what an opportunity to make Caesar salad -- the quintessential application for hardy crunchy ruffles.
Also known as Cos and Roman lettuce, romaine isn't just pretty to look at; it's really good for you. In fact, it beats out all other lettuces in the nutrition department, boasting substantial amounts of Vitamins A, C and K, as well as potassium, folate (a nice bonus for pregnant moms), and whaddya know, even some of those heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
Now about that Caesar salad. Ever replicate that restaurant favorite at home? I love it when I can find a restaurant that still offers tableside preparation, a bit of old-school dining theater that unfortunately has become a dying art.
Drama aside, Caesar dressing made to order is simpler than it seems and takes all of five minutes to throw together. However, a few prep tasks are in order before any tossing takes place, including washing and thoroughly drying those green leaves and making a small batch of croutons.
Whenever there's talk of Caesar, there's always talk about two things -- whether or not to use anchovies or is it okay to use a raw egg?
Here's my take: I love those little salted fishes, and I love the briny pungency they bring to the dressing. If you feel differently on the 'chovy matter, by all means, leave them out. As for the egg: I buy mine from a local farm on a weekly basis, so I am comfortable going raw in my dressing. That said, if you've got health issues or are just plain squeamish, you can coddle the egg, which means boiling it whole for one minute, then dunking into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Any by all means, if you are unsure about the source of your eggs, do the coddle method.
Before I share the Caesar-y details, there's one other application for romaine that rocks my world, and it's cooked, not raw. Hardy enough to withstand the heat of cooking, romaine is just dynamite in a stir fry; have a look at the linked recipe, which calls for lots of whole garlic and Chinese rice wine. This is a great workweek dish that takes less time than to cook a pot of rice. Considering all the nutrients in the romaine, this dish is substantial enough as a light entree.
Share your favorite ways of eating romaine, or perhaps you've got another version of Caesar dressing. The floor is open.
1/2 baguette or hunk of crusty bread, slightly stale, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 head Romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, washed and dried
2 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
At least 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano, or to taste
Preheat oven to 300. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and allow to crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately rub one of the garlic cloves directly onto one side of the toast. Slice into bite-sized pieces, set aside.
Place inner leaves and hearts of Romaine into a large salad bowl. Tear with hands if smaller pieces are preferred.
With mortar and pestle, smash anchovies and remaining 2 cloves of garlic, with a dash of salt, until it forms a paste. Plan B: Use blender and puree.
In a small bowl, add lemon juice, garlic-anchovy paste, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and whisk to combine. Add egg, whisking until blended.
While whisking, gradually add olive oil until incorporated. Taste for oil/acid balance. Add more oil if necessary. Taste for salt and pepper; add accordingly.
Pour half of the vinaigrette over lettuce, and toss with tongs until leaves are well-coated. Add rest of vinaigrette as necessary. Add toasts and parmigiano and toss again. Serve immediately.
Makes enough for 2 or 3 Caesar lovers.
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