After an inspired caesar salad at Zuni Cafe, I had to try to recreate it myself. The salad was fantastic, but you can never substitute at Zuni. The slight tang and salt from the parmesean, lemon and anchovy is so refreshing and satisfying.
For the croutons:
- A 2- to 3-ounce chunk or slice of day-old levain or sourdough bread or other chewy, peasant-style bread
- 1 to 2 tbsp mild-tasting olive oil
To finish the salad:
- 1 to 2 heads romaine lettuce (to yield about 1-1/2 lbs usable leaves)
- 1/2 tbsp red wine or apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup mild-tasting olive oil
- about 3/4 tbsp chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets rinsed thoroughly (6 to 9 fillets)
- about 1 tsp chopped garlic
- one pinch of salt
- 1 large cold egg
- about 1/5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (3/4 cups very lightly packed)
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 lemon (to yield about 3 tbsp juice)
Preheat oven to 350F
Cut the bread into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes, toss with oil to coat evenly, salt lightly, toss again, and spread on a sheet pan. Roast, rotating the pan as needed, until golden all over, about 8 to 12 minutes. Taste a crouton; it should be well seasoned and slightly tender in the center. Leave to cool on the sheet pan.
Discard the leathery outer leaves of the romaine, then cut off the base of each head and wash and dry the leaves. Go through the leaves, trimming them of discolored, leathery, bruised, or wilted parts, but leave them whole. You need about 1/2 lbs of prepared leaves. Layer the leaves with towels if necessary to wick off every drop of water – wet lettuce will make an insipid salad. Refrigerate until just before dressing the salad.
Whisk together the vinegar, oil, anchovies, salt, and garlic in a small mixing bowl. Add the eggs, a few sprinkles of the cheese, and lots of black pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Add the lemon juice, squeezing it through a strainer to catch the seeds. Whisk again, just to emulsify. Taste the dressing, first by itself and then on a leaf of lettuce, and adjust any of the seasonings to taste. If the romaine is very sweet, the dressing may already taste balanced and excellent – if it is mineraly, extra lemon or garlic may improve the flavor. If you like more anchovy, add it. (You should have about 1/2 cups of dressing).
Place the romaine in a wide salad bowl. Add most of the dressing and fold and toss very thoroughly, taking care to separate the leaves and coat each surface with dressing, adding more as needed. Dust with most of the remaining cheese, add the croutons, and toss again. Taste and adjust as before. In generally, the tastier the romaine, the less you will need to emphasize the other flavors.
Pick out first the large, then the medium-sized, and then the smallest leaves and arrange on cold plates. Add a last drizzle of dressing to the bowl to moisten the croutons if they are at all dry and stir them around in the bowl to capture dressing on each of their faces and in their hollows. Distribute the croutons among the salads and finish each serving with a final dusting of cheese and more pepper.