I love the essence of caesar salad – bright lemon, salty parmesan, crisp romaine and crunchy croutons – but I could do without the gloppiness that weighs down most incarnations. This is caesar salad my way: light, bright, no egg, no mayonnaise, and simple as it gets. Fresh lemon juice, great parmesan and homemade croutons make all the difference.
Without raw egg or mayonnaise, this caesar makes an excellent summertime buffet salad. Romaine hearts are sturdy and don’t collapse into a dense heap the way delicate mixed baby lettuces do.
Croutons are a great way to use up old bread, and making them is hardly more than cutting bread into cubes and sticking them in the oven while you finish your salad prep. Make as many as you like and store them for future salads, soups or snacking.
Toss bread cubes with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I love my garlic press, which saves me from the sticky business of mincing garlic.
And into the oven.
I make an exception to the don’t-cut-lettuce rule for romaine hearts. Romaine hearts are sturdy enough to stand up to cutting, and I find that I get a better distribution of white and green in my bites of salad this way. Also with four kids I’m often grabbing forkfuls instead of sitting to a meal, so I prefer not to have to cut oversized leaves at the table.
The dressing is fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Don’t underestimate the importance of salt and pepper; taste and adjust as necessary. I got lazy here and put everything in at once, but you’ll get a more evenly mixed dressing if you add the oil in batches and mix after each addition until fully emulsified.
A good caesar dressing has the extra depth of umami. I thought anchovies were the classic source, but according Wikipedia, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (anchovies being one ingredient) was the extra oomph in Caesar Cardini’s original recipe. Still, anchovy paste would be a good substitute for Worcestershire, or in a pinch a bit of soy sauce (also in Worcestershire sauce) will do as well, though it lacks the tang of Worcestershire.
Remove croutons to cool.
Freshly-grated parmesan is best. I used the small-hole side of the box grater, but you could use an even finer grating if you prefer a dusting of parmesan instead of shreds.
Time to put it all together.
Toss romaine with dressing. Add half the dressing, toss and taste. Add additional dressing as needed, tossing and tasting until you are satisfied. Too much dressing will weigh down the salad, so you want just enough and no more.
Add cheese and toss.
A big plate of caesar salad is a perfect base for any grilled meat or a delightful summer meal on its own. Light, bright, happy deliciousness.
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Lighter Brighter Caesar Salad
I love the essence of caesar salad – bright lemon, salty parmesan, crisp romaine and crunchy croutons – but I could do without the gloppiness that weighs down most incarnations. This is caesar salad my way – light, bright, no egg, no mayo. It makes a great buffet salad, as romaine holds up well. But it’s best fresh, when the croutons are crispest.
- 3 cups good quality bread cut into 3/4″ cubes (old bread is best)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
Caesar dressing ingredients
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemon halves)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 romaine hearts (12-16 oz total)
- 3-4 oz (1 1/2-2 cups) freshly grated parmesan cheese (as good as you can find)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss bread cubes with generous drizzle of olive oil, minced garlic, a good shake of salt and grind of pepper. Spread on baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove to cool.
- In a medium bowl, add lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Slowly add olive oil and whisk until emulsified (oil no longer floats separately on top). Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Wash and dry romaine leaves. Tear or chop leaves and place in large salad bowl.
- Add salad dressing to taste and toss well to coat thoroughly.
- Add grated parmesan and toss to mix.
- Add cooled croutons and toss one final time.
Makes 6 generous or 12 small servings.
- Worcestershire substitutes: anchovy paste adds a classic caesar flavor; even soy sauce will do in a pinch to give a bit of salty umami depth.
- Because of the lemon juice, caesar salad dressing is best fresh but will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator.
- In general cutting lettuce makes it wilt faster, but I find romaine hearts to be sturdy enough to hold up. To me cutting romaine hearts makes for more even distribution of white part to green as well as more consistently bite-sized pieces.
- To prepare ahead, store romaine, grated cheese and dressing separately in refrigerator. Keep cooled croutons at room temperature. Toss salad just before serving, adding croutons last.
Here’s the link to a printable version.