Monday, April 27, 2009

I Know I'm a Ceasar Salad Addict

When do you finally admit I am powerless over my addiction.?

For me, it's when I found myself at 10 o'clock at night, desperately clutching a tube of anchovy paste, scraping at it with a butter knife, trying to get every last little bit of salty, fishy goodness out of the tube--and realizing that I have consumed an ENTIRE tube of anchovy paste in only one week. You see,

I am powerless over Caesar salads.

I suppose this is a side effect of eating seasonally. I haven't had a Caesar salad in months. In fact, I haven't even wanted one in months. But, when the weather kicked it up to something like balminess last week I craved raw, leafy greens. Now I've made Caesar salad my dinner for the last three nights in a row, and even as I write this, I'm contemplating a midnight snack of Caesar salad--I mean someone needs to christen the brand-new, never been squeezed tube of Reese's anchovy paste that I bought today to replenish my severely depleted stock.

All of this gorging on Caesar salad has a perfectly rational explanation. This is what happens when you have too many outdoor projects going on. I have been: amending garden soil with composted manure, rearranging large swaths of sod in my front lawn to make room for said garden and to cover dead spots (with Laura's help), mowing the lawn for the first time (with my new mower)* and working on the poultry palace (against the wire as the lovely lady hens are rapidly outgrowing their cardboard boxes).* What this means, is haven't had much time to do any cooking except literally throwing a salad together.

This is where Caesar salad, with a made-from-pantry-staples, dressing comes in handy.
Caesar dressing is so alluring because of the complexity of flavors. Tartness of lemon juice, coupled with the creamy fruitiness of a quality Mediterranean olive oil, balanced by the spicy bite of fresh garlic, slivers of aged Parmesan hidden amongst the sweet, yet slightly pepper crunch of romaine leaves. This salad has it going on, not to mention the addition of anchovy paste!

Anchovy loathers, you need to get over yourselves. Anchovy paste is know for it's umami properties. Umami is simply the recently discovered fifth taste, ranking right up there with salty, bitter, sweet, and sour. Umami comes from the Japanese word meaning "yummy, keen, or nice." Most Americans describe the flavor as "meatiness," "relish," or "savoriness." Umami--which is the flavor receptor that MSG makes ring bells and whistles--is simple a response to the amino acids or glutamates in foods, which not suprisingly reside in salty, aged, and or fermented foods like anchovies.

Ceasar Salad

(this is an adaptation from Fannie Farmer, and I've made it so many times I make it now by eyeballing it)

For the Dressing:
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil (splurge in the most expensive you can afford)
juice of half a lemon
2 inches of anchovy paste (or to taste)
fresh ground black pepper

Mince the garlic. I use a mini food processor for this and then add each ingredient in one after another, blending at each addition. Lacking a food processor, you could mince the garlic by hand, and the whisk in all the other ingredients until emulsified.

For the Salad:
Romain Lettuce (buy full heads or hearts, DO NOT used bagged lettuce, you'll regret it because it tastes stale.)
Parmesean cheese (or other hard, aged cheese. For instance, I used Pecrino early this week when I ran out of Parmesean, and it worked quite well.)

Wash and dry lettuce. Tear in bite size pieces or leave leaves whole, your choice. Toss with dressing. Then, grate cheese over salad. Depending on my mood, I either use a microplaner, or my vegetable peeler to grate the cheese.

If you want you could also add capers or croutons, or small pieces of leftover roast chicken.

*Blog Posts Coming Soon!

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