Caesar Salad with Chile-Spiced Croutons

Ingredients

For the dressing

  • 1 tablespoon  aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon  lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon  Dijon mustard
  •   small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon  capers, drained and chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup  freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
  • 5 tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon  sea salt
  •    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the croutons

  • 2 tablespoons  olive oil
  • 2 s  large slices sourdough country bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1/8 teaspoon  sea salt
  •    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon  chili powder

For the salad

  • 6 s  heads romaine lettuce, preferably young romaine, halved lengthwise
  •    Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, for garnish
  •    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Who doesn’t love Caesar salad? I haven’t met anyone yet... And it’s been a favorite of mine ever since my college days in California. Back then, any trendy restaurant would assemble it right at your table. The waiter would arrive with his arsenal and furiously whip an egg to make the dressing. Going out for dinner and not ordering one was inconceivable!

For me, this favorite recipe has evolved though. First, I find the egg-based dressing a bit rich, so I’ve come up with one that’s just as creamy and flavorful but sits better in my stomach.

Then, whenever possible, I like to use young romaine lettuces that I serve whole. It makes a gorgeous presentation and looks less predictable than the torn-up pieces of mature, thick romaine leaves. The real bonus of course is that these young romaines are utterly succulent! You won’t find them in your grocery store though, so head out to your local farmers market to pick a bunch. And I dare say you haven’t tasted a romaine until you taste these young lettuces!

Lastly, I like to make my own croutons. I’ll admit it’s a fetish of mine, but I just don’t enjoy the boxed, super dehydrated ones. Spiked with a little chili powder, they are good enough that my husband Marc always tries to steal a few before I’m ready to serve.

A few tweaks on this classic recipe make a modern and light Caesar salad that’s also bursting with flavor... In fact, I always eat twice my share!

Directions

For the dressing

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Set aside.

For the croutons

Heat the oil in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and toss well. Sauté undisturbed until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Toss and continue to sauté until golden on all sides, about 2 more minutes. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Season with the salt, pepper, to taste, and chili powder. Toss well and let cool to room temperature.

For the salad

Place 3 romaine halves in the center of each plate. Drizzle with the dressing and top with the croutons. Garnish with the cheese and season with freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

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