Caesar Salad and Parmesan Crisps with Fall Vegetables (Brassicas for Days)
you are resilient, adaptable, and dying for a salad
things you’ll need: brassicas (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli rabe, and so on), lemon (juice and zest), dijon, garlic (or shallot), Worcestershire (fishless varieties available in various stores), one egg yolk (or mayonnaise or yogurt), olive oil (or neutral oil), optional anchovies (some people use capers), lots of parmesan, salt and fresh cracked pepper.
using this recipe from Bon Appétit by Chris Morocco as inspiration, but drawing from every other Caesar dressing on the internet and my unabating love of brassicas.
incidentally gluten-free, vegetarian if using fishless Worcestershire and no anchovies. For vegan: parm=nutritional yeast, anchovies=capers or miso (like this one), egg=silken tofu, cashews, veganaise, tahini, or hummus. Options abound!
Way back in the before times, you took a trip to Mexico and were surprised to find that so many menus included a Caesar Salad (for two), made tableside. Turns out that Caesar Salad was developed by an Italian guy named Caesar who had a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico as an improvised solution on a busy night when they were running out of food, or so the story goes.
Food stories like this make you squee a little because you love the way dishes evolve from necessity. Many of your “signature” dishes were born of this improvisation, inspired by whatever you happened to have on hand.
This is the spirit, the perseverance, the adaptability that got you through the early lockdown days when shelves were semi bare and trips out were still a bit terrifying. These are skills you’ve cultivated and are proud of now. So, much respect to Caesar Cardini.
Start in your happy place: cutting vegetables. It’s not that you don’t like lettuce, it’s just that you can get more nutrients and more deliciousness from other things. Fall is a great season for brassicas, you love brassicas, they are really good for you, and they all go together. So, improvise: mandoline some brussels sprouts, stand broccoli (or cauliflower) on its crown and make thin slices through the stems, run some Kohlrabi over a box grater, strip and chiffonade some kale leaves, shave some cabbage, or whatever you have around.
Is knife work not your happy place? Is it the place where your culinary dreams fizzle and stall? It’s ok. There are plenty of pre-cut options in the world now. Now you can get bags of cut kale, shaved brussels sprouts, slaw-cut cabbage or broccoli, and so on.
When you make the dressing, you can use a lot of lemon juice (1/4 cup) or a little (1-2 Tablespoons). Since you are you, you use a lot: zest and juice one big and juicy lemon. Squeeze in a little Dijon (1-2 teaspoons) and grate in or mince up a lot or a little garlic (or shallot if you don’t do garlic).
If you want to use actual anchovies, you can mash those up or blend them with everything else. There is debate about whether the original had anchovies. You can sub in capers or just add a few dashes (1-2 teaspoons) of Worcestershire sauce (which has anchovies, unless you get a special fishless one or use coconut aminos).
Whisk all that up. Since you want to do it the way it was done for you that one time in Mexico, add one egg yolk. You can sub in mayo, yogurt, or something else rich if you want. Whisk it together very thoroughly. Once combined, slowly whisk in ½ cup of oil (adhering to your 1:2 acid to oil ratio) until emulsified. Yes, you can just throw it all in a blender or use an immersion blender.
Once your dressing is fully combined, add a bunch of grated parmesan (3+ Tablespoons), and finish with a little salt and many good cracks of black pepper until you like it.
Maybe you don’t have croutons or bread with which to make croutons or maybe you just don’t gluten. Parmesan crisps are here for you. Preheat the oven to 400 and sprinkle parmesan on a silicone mat (or parchment paper), about one Tablespoon per crisp and well-spaced, then bake for 8ish minutes. The cheese melts and crisps and then it breaks up into crunchy crispies that delight.
Toss your various brassicas with your dressing, more shaved parmesan, and the zest from the lemon you juiced (because brassicas like lemon as much as you do). Top with parmesan crispies and dive in! Isn’t improvisation delicious?
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