I’ve been using my own recipe for Caesar salad for years and haven’t thought much about changing things up at all. However, a recent visit to San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe had me changing my tune. I was in the city for a day of shopping with a couple of visiting friends–old and new–and we took a lunch break at the busy café. I had their Caesar as a starter and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Their version was tart but not necessarily lemony. It had the perfect balance of flavors that I haven’t tasted in a restaurant Caesar salad in a long time. As soon as I got home, I consulted my Zuni cookbook and discovered that their recipe calls for a combination of lemon juice and…red wine vinegar. That’s it!
I made Zuni’s dressing and croûtons last night and I was very pleased with the results. The red wine vinegar really adds a fresh flavor boost that makes this dressing special. Of course, I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t alter the recipe a bit, but in this case, I just didn’t feel like using raw eggs, so I made a substitution. This is on the menu again for tonight’s dinner, only this time, we’re having it with roast chicken instead of the grilled salmon we had last night.
Zuni Caesar Salad (4 – 6 Servings)
- A 4 – 5 ounce chunk or slice of day-old levain or sourdough bread or other chewy, peasant-style bread
- 2 – 3 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
- 2 -3 heads romaine lettuce (to yield 1 1/2 pounds usable leaves)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup mild-tasting olive oil
- About 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets (6 – 9 fillets)
- About 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- A few pinches of salt
- 2 large cold eggs (I used about a tablespoon or two of Girard’s Bottled Caesar Dressing)
- About 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (1 1/2 cups very lightly packed)
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- About 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350º.
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 – 12 minutes. The croûton 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 (If the leaf is fresh and edible, I use it). Leave the leaves whole and make sure they’re properly drained after rinsing them. 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 and whisk again.
Place the romaine in 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 the dressing, adding more as needed. Dust with most of the remaining cheese, add the croûtons, and toss again. Taste and adjust, as needed. Add a last drizzle of dressing to the plated leaves, add a final dusting of cheese and more black pepper.