A tale of two salads

In December, we said good-bye to our food columnist Jenny Derry,
who moved on after eight years of providing us with tantalizing
recipes. Today, we welcome a new food columnist, whose recipes and
stories we think you’ll enjoy. Bon Appetit!
Editor’s Note: In December, we said good-bye to our food columnist Jenny Derry, who moved on after eight years of providing us with tantalizing recipes. Today, we welcome a new food columnist, whose recipes and stories we think you’ll enjoy. Bon Appetit!

Had a Caesar salad lately? They’re hard to miss. Once made at the table by your waiter in upscale restaurants, they now appear in restaurants of every type, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s, often augmented with chicken or shrimp.

Some food historians say the first Caesar salad was created on July 4, 1924 for a bunch of Hollywood personalities by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur who lived in San Diego and operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition. Supposedly the chef made it up out of ingredients he happened to have on hand.

The original consisted of small whole inner leaves of romaine lettuce, and was eaten with the fingers.

Eighty years later, it’s popular for several reasons:

n It appeals to people who don’t really like vegetables but are trying to eat their greens.

n Romaine lettuce is durable and lasts in your refrigerator longer than other types.

n The dressing, with its garlic and cheese, contains popular flavors.

Another legendary salad from the mid-1920s is the Cobb salad. This one was created by Bob Cobb, the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant.

After a long work day, he realized he had not eaten, and (like Cardini) went to the refrigerator to see what he could find.

The result was the mixture of greens, cold meats and cheese that we know today.

Whether or not these histories are accurate, they celebrate a mix of tradition and California-style improvisational spirit – a great way to come up with good food.

If you feel like creating a bit of a show at a dinner party, here is a recipe for made-at-the-table Caesar salad (adapted from my 1970 copy of The Joy of Cooking).

You will need to start the day before you plan to serve the salad.

Traditional Caesar Salad

Serves four.

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup French bread cut into 1″ cubes

2 heads romaine lettuce

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 t. dry mustard freshly ground black pepper

Either: 5 anchovy fillets, cut into small pieces OR a few drops of Worcestershire sauce

3 T. wine vinegar

1 egg, cooked in simmering water for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes* and lightly beaten

1 lemon

3 T. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1: Put the peeled and sliced garlic clove and the olive oil together in a glass or stainless bowl, cover and leave for 24 hours, so the garlic flavors the oil. This does not need to be refrigerated.

Step 2: Using 2 tablespoons of the oil (reserve the rest) sauté the bread cubes over on all sides to make croutons. Use medium heat and watch carefully. The croutons should be medium brown. This can be done in advance. Of course, you can also buy croutons, but these will taste fresher.

Step 3: Remove any tough or discolored outer leaves of romaine. Break the heads into two-inch pieces and rinse and dry well. Place the romaine in the largest bowl you have, because you will want to toss the salad with abandon.

Step 4: For maximum impact, place the croutons, reserved garlicky oil, salt, mustard, anchovy fillets or worcestershire sauce, vinegar, egg, lemon and grated Parmesan in small dishes and bring to the table along with your pepper grinder, the bowl of romaine and your salad servers.

Step 5: Sprinkle the salt, dry mustard, anchovies or Worcestershire sauce over the romaine. Grind over it as much black pepper as you and your family like.

Step 6: Add the wine vinegar and oil.

Step 7: Add the egg, and squeeze both halves of the lemon over everything.

Step 8: Add the croutons and the cheese.

Step 9: Toss wildly so that the leaves are evenly covered by the dressing ingredients.

Step 10: Serve onto medium-sized plates.

Safety note: This length of cooking will not kill any salmonella that may be present in the egg, so this should not be served to children, pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system.

For days when you would rather have the flavors without the fuss, here is a recipe (adapted from The Compleat I Hate To Cook Book) for Caesar dressing that you can make in advance:

Ready Caesar Dressing

2 lemons (you will need about 4 tablespoons juice)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1-minute egg, beaten (see note above about egg safety)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4-6 chopped anchovies if you like them

freshly grated pepper

Step 1: Squeeze the lemon juice into a pint jar and add all other ingredients, screw the lid on tight and shake soundly. This can be kept in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Serve over romaine with croutons and anything else you would like to add (grilled chicken breast, leftover turkey, shrimp, bacon…)

A basic Cobb salad recipe can be the basis for your own composed salad creations. Just substitute other leftover meats or cheeses, keeping a balance of the mild (like the chicken or turkey and egg) and the tangy (like the bacon and blue cheese).

Cobb Salad (adapted from the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking)

Serves 4 – 6

1 head Bibb or butter lettuce, separated into leaves, washed and dried

1 head watercress, trimmed of big stems, washed, dried and coarsely chopped

1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced

4 cups diced chicken or turkey breast

6 to 8 slices bacon, cooked crisp and chopped or crumbled

3 hard-cooked eggs, cut in wedges or diced

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup finely snipped fresh chives

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

Vinaigrette or blue cheese dressing: use a bottled dressing or see recipe below.

Step 1: Line a platter with the lettuce.

Step 2: Arrange the watercress, avocado, meats, eggs and tomatoes on the lettuce. You can make rows, concentric circles, or radiating spokes: be creative!

Step 3: Sprinkle the chives and blue cheese over everything.

Step 4: Drizzle lightly with dressing and serve the remaining dressing in a pitcher or gravy boat.

Vinaigrette dressing for Cobb salad

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 T. lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

Step 1: Crush the garlic clove into a pint jar.

Step 2: Add the remaining ingredients except the cheese and shake wildly. The mixture should look smooth.

Step 3: Add the crumbled cheese and serve.

Elizabeth Gage is a writer who lives in Hollister. She can be reached at [email protected]

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