Caesar salad with garlic crostini
FoodTip: Use a good homemade dressing

Caesar salad with garlic crostini

Putting a little extra effort into a weeknight meal

Caeser salad with garlic crostini (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Caeser salad with garlic crostini (Photo by Jessica Grann)

For the first time in almost 20 years, I am making dinner for two most nights of the week. I have struggled to make this transition, but I’m finally building the skill of cooking smaller portions. Mealtimes have gone from family time to a relaxed but more grown-up experience for me, and it feels nice to put a little extra effort into a dinner just for my husband and me.

Many people take the mayo shortcut for Caesar salad, but it only takes a few minutes to get the authentic taste at home. Although mayonnaise is one of my top-rated condiments (I won’t give it up, no matter what the doctor advises) it only takes a few minutes to mix a fresh Caesar dressing, which is essentially homemade mayonnaise, seasoned and mixed with a healthier olive oil.

I really like making my own salad dressings — having control of the oil and sugar and forgoing extra ingredients or preservatives. If you’re concerned about the use of raw egg yolk, then buy pasteurized eggs to put your mind at ease.


For the garlic crostini:
½ a baguette
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 minced clove garlic
Kosher salt

For the Caesar salad:

3-4 heads romaine lettuce, washed and dried
2 egg yolks at room temperature
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 whole anchovies or 1 tablespoon of anchovy paste
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup good quality olive oil
¾ cup Parmesan cheese (grated), or ½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

There are three tips for making the best Caesar salad at home. The first is that the romaine leaves must be washed and allowed to air dry completely before preparing the salad. The second is using a good homemade dressing and the third is to dress the salad immediately before serving. Not 10 minutes before, or even 5. For crunchy, fresh-tasting lettuce, you need to throw it all together just before dinner.

Wash and dry 3-4 heads of romaine lettuce. Place a tea towel on the table and allow the lettuce to air dry for a few hours, turning once to allow any excess water to drip off. Once dry, hand tear the lettuce leaves into bite-size pieces.

To prepare the crostini, pour 1½ tablespoons of olive oil into a small bowl and add 1 minced clove of garlic. Let the oil and garlic rest for 5 minutes before use to allow the garlic flavor to infuse the oil.

Preheat the oven to 375 F and place the wire rack in the upper third of the oven.

This is a fantastic recipe to use up stale bread, but the bread must have enough give to be sliced into small pieces. If it totally crumbles, choose a different bread. You can also get creative and make crostini with rye or multigrain bread.

Slice 8 pieces of bread about 1-inch thick. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush each lightly with the olive oil using a pastry brush. Don’t worry about getting the minced garlic onto the bread; just let that sink to the bottom of the bowl — the flavor is in the oil. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the bread is golden brown around the edges.

You can make the crostini a few hours ahead of time, but store it in an airtight container if they’re going to be out longer than a few hours to prevent them from getting too hard.

I suggest using an immersion blender to mix the dressing, but you can emulsify the dressing by hand with a whisk and a bit of elbow grease. If using an immersion blender, put the room-temperature egg yolks, lemon juice, anchovy and Worcestershire sauce in a tall mixing glass and blend on high until everything is smooth and mixed together. It will take a little bit longer if you’re using whole anchovy filets as opposed to anchovy paste.

If you’re mixing by hand, whisk the eggs well before mixing the other ingredients. It will be easier to use anchovy paste unless you want to grind the anchovies into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Either way, once the egg mixture is well combined, mix in the Dijon mustard, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking/blending constantly.

Blend/whisk until the mixture is emulsified, meaning that the oil does not separate and the dressing stays in its blended form while resting. If you’re using grated Parmesan cheese, stir it in by hand at this point. If you are using cheese shavings, use a vegetable peeler to shave about ½ cup of cheese off your brick of Parmesan and set aside. Cover tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to mix the salad. I keep this dressing on hand for 2 to 3 days.

Toss the romaine lettuce with about half of the prepared dressing.

Arrange the garlic crostini and sprinkle with shaved Parmesan, if applicable.

I love to add anchovy filets to Caesar salad, so I typically buy a 4-ounce jar of filets in olive oil, use some for the dressing and the rest for the salad. If whole anchovies are not appealing to you, omit them, but they are imperative in seasoning the dressing.

Add freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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