Julia Child and Jacques Pepin
on Weekend All Things Considered
2 or 3 servings
18 to 24 crisp, narrow leaves from the hearts of 2 heads of romaine lettuce, or a package of romaine hearts (about 1 pound)
1 cup plain toasted croutons (see recipe below)
1 large clove garlic, peeled
¼ cup or more excellent olive oil
1 large egg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 whole lemon, halved and seeded
2 TBS freshly grated Parmesan cheese, imported Parmagiano Reggiano only
A large mixing bowl, a small frying pan
PREPARING THE SALAD COMPONENTS
You will probably need 2 large heads of romaine for 3 people, or use a commercially prepared package of "romaine hearts" if the appear fresh and fine. From a large head, remove the outside leaves until you get down to the cone where the leaves are 4 to 7 inches in length - you'll want 6 to 8 of these leaves per serving. Separate the leaves and wash them carefully to keep them whole, roll them loosely in clean towels, and keep refrigerated until serving time. (Save the remains for other salads; fortunately, romaine keeps reasonably well under refrigeration.)
To flavor the croutons, crush the garlic clove with the flat of a chef's knife, sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon of salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic, and mash again with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft puree.
Scrape the puree into the frying pan, add another tablespoon of oil, and warm over low-medium heat. Add the croutons and toss for a minute or two to infuse them with the garlic oil, then remove from the heat. (For a milder garlic flavor, you can strain the puree through a small sieve into a pan before adding the extra oil and croutons. Discard the bits of garlic.)
To coddle the egg, bring a small saucepan of water to the simmer. Pierce the large end of the egg with a pushpin to prevent cracking, then simmer it for exactly 1 minute.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says you shouldn't eat raw or partly-cooked eggs, in order to eliminate any chance of getting food poisoning. But egg industry officials, and Julia, say if you use fresh eggs straight from the refrigerator, your chances of getting sick are miniscule.
MIXING AND SERVING THE CAESAR
Dress the salad just before serving. Have ready all the dressing ingredients and a salad fork and spoon for tossing.
Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the romaine leaves and toss to coat, lifting the leaves from the bottom and turning them toward you, so they tumble over like a wave. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, toss once or twice, then add the lemon juice and several drops of Worcestershire, and toss again. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed.
Crack the egg and drop it right on the romaine leaves, then toss to break it up and coat the leaves. Sprinkle on the cheese, toss briefly, then add the croutons (and the garlicky bits in the pan, if you wish) and toss for the last time, just to mix them into the salad.
Arrange 6 or more leaves in a single layer on individual plates, scatter the croutons all around, and serve.
Homemade croutons are essential for our Caesar salad and a fine addition to a basic green salad as well as soups. You can enrich the cubes with melted butter before toasting, if you like, or flavor them after with garlic oil, as in the Caesar recipe. It's easy to make a large batch and freeze any croutons you are not using the same day. Reheat frozen croutons in a low oven until crisp.
PLAIN TOASTED CROUTONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the crusts from 4 or more thick slices of home-style white bread and slice bread into ½ inch strips, and then the strips into ½ inch cubes, to make 4 cups. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet and set in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly toasted on all sides. Spread the cubes on a tray to cool before using or freezing.
Before toasting the bread cubes, toss them in a bowl with ¼ cup of melted butter, then spread them out and bake them.
Julia is probably one of the few people around who saw the real Caesar Cardini making his salad. Her parents took her to his restaurant when she was just nine years old. She says "you don't want herbs and anchovies and things like that in it, those would adulterate it". Jacques on the other hand loves anchovies in his Caesar salad.