14 July 2010

slinging hash: caesar salad

I prefer hot weather to cold, but cold weather cooking over hot weather cooking. I'm complicated that way. During summer, the less time spent in the kitchen the better, and last week, with the heat wave, any impulse I had to cook ground to a halt.

Would that I could afford to order in sushi whenever the temperature reaches triple digits. Until then, all I can stomach is a dinner of salad, bread and cheese.

Normally I can take or leave salads, which I think of as restaurant food. This may have something to do with having been tasked with salad prep as a child, which I still find extremely tedious. But lately, Caesar salad has me in its thrall, and for this I have the Canal House to thank.

The friend who introduced me to Canal House described it as food porn of the highest order. Canal House is a joint undertaking of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, who, as best I understand, share a sort of cook's atelier in Lambertville, New Jersey, where they have pulled off the enviable feat of crafting an incredibly seductive print facsimile of their happy, yet no doubt ordinary, domestic and professional lives.

In addition to being beautifully designed, written and photographed, their four volumes of Canal House Cooking are full of recipes for straightforward, delicious things to eat and drink. They do not rely on fancy ingredients, complicated techniques of fussy presentation.

Opening Canal House Cooking puts me in a fugue state, where when I am not sent straight to the kitchen, I desire not so much to curl up with a copy as climb inside.

Technically, this is not a true Caesar salad, because it lacks egg and Worcestershire sauce. With lots of anchovies, the dressing does not stint on flavor. Garlic is pounded with salt, anchovies and Dijon mustard, to which olive oil is added. Rather than add the parmesan directly to the dressing, I add it when I toss the salad, which allows me to save the extra in the fridge. 

Serve over romaine, with parmesan cheese and with or without croutons, it makes a satisfying meal on an oppressively hot day.

Caesar Salad Dressing
adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3
makes enough for 2-3 salads

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
salt and pepper
6 anchovy fillets
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
10-12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

To serve:
romaine lettuce heartsparmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated


Smash the garlic in a mortar and pestle, add salt and pepper and grind into a paste. Add anchovies and pound into the garlic paste. Alternately, you can do this on a cutting board with the flat of a knife, and scrape the paste into a bowl before proceeding.

Stir in Dijon mustard and lemon juice. Slowly stir in ten tablespoons olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a thick dressing. In truth, I don't measure out the oil in advance, preferring to drizzle it in a bit at a time. Go slowly, tasting as you go. Adjust for salt and add up to two additional tablespoons olive oil if dressing is too acidic.

Cut or tear the lettuce into a bowl. Pour dressing over the leaves, add parmesan, and stir to combine. Top with croutons if you have them.