For decades, my mom produced amazing Christmas dinners for our large family, and one specialty we all looked forward to each year was her homemade Caesar salad. Amidst all of the beautiful food at her table, her Caesar salad was so delicious that I often found myself seeking a second helping.
My parents now spend the holidays in Florida with my grandmother, who is just shy of her 100th birthday. Fortunately, though we miss them dearly, food can provide the opportunity to celebrate those we love, even when they can't be with us at Christmas.
This year, in addition to Italian and Norwegian specialties, I'll also be bringing My Mom's Best Caesar Salad to our table. Her recipe is based solely on memories from a childhood experience, and to this day that is how she continues to make it - from memory. Yet, in spite of having no actual recipe to work from, her Caesar tastes consistently the same, year after year.
Recently, I visited with my mother to record the recipe and ensure that I could reproduce her signature specialty on my own. She was inspired to start this tradition many years ago, motivated by a fine-dining experience she had as a young girl. As we chatted, she fondly recalled watching the table captain prepare a Caesar salad, table-side, with elegance and efficiency.
A traditional Caesar is made with Romaine lettuce, but my mother's version uses both green and red leaf lettuce. She prefers these greens for their pretty, contrasting colors and also for their flavor and texture. Leaf lettuce has a lovely texture and sweeter nature than Romaine, and it pairs perfectly with the zesty tang of the homemade Caesar dressing.
This recipe contains both anchovies and raw eggs, which are signature components to both the flavor and consistency of a classic Caesar dressing. If you're uncomfortable using raw eggs, we recommend buying pasteurized eggs to ensure food safety, or, if you must, replacing them with two to three tablespoons of real mayonnaise. The anchovies, however, are non-negotiable.
Additional flavor comes from freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and bleu cheese crumbles. I prefer a Microplane grater for the Parmigiano, which grates the cheese so finely that it practically melts into the dressing.
Lemon juice provides the acid to balance the flavors, and a couple of garlic cloves are smashed and added just to flavor the dressing, and then removed before serving to keep the garlic from overwhelming the other flavors.
For the oil, we use a combination of equal parts canola and extra virgin olive oil, a trick we learned from the professional chefs in our lives. Here's another chef-y tip: adding the oil in a slow, steady stream, while whisking constantly, will ensure that it is fully emulsified into the dressing.
My Mom's Best Caesar Salad is full of big flavor and a perfect complement to succulent main courses like our Braised Beef Short Ribs, Herb-Encrusted Prime Rib Roast or Horseradish Beef Tenderloin Roast.
In celebration of family, both near and far, we wish you the happiest of holidays and a very Merry Christmas.
My Mom's Best Caesar Salad
Serves: 12 to 16
2 heads Green Leaf lettuce
1 head Red Leaf lettuce
2 ounces anchovies (packed in oil), drained
1 to 1 ½ cups fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (adjust to taste)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons, about ¼ to ⅓ cup
2 large eggs, regular or pasteurized
2 ounces bleu or gorgonzola cheese (about ½ cup), crumbled
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
2 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Finely shaved or shredded parmesan cheese
Tear the leaf lettuce into bite-size pieces, about 1 to 2 inches. Wash and dry thoroughly; a salad spinner is best for this purpose. Lay the washed leaves out on paper towels and pat dry; allow to sit at room temperature until fully dry. This step may be done several hours in advance, and the dry lettuce may be stored in a plastic zipper bag and refrigerated until ready to use.
In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon to thoroughly mash the anchovies. Add the finely grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and mix to form a paste. Add the lemon juice, bleu cheese crumbles, and egg; stir to combine.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the oils and add them to the mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify, about 1 to 2 minutes, until the dressing appears mostly smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust flavors as desired.
Add the smashed garlic to the dressing, but don't mix - the garlic is used for flavor and will be removed before serving. If using a food processor to blend the ingredients, you can skip this step and just blend the garlic in, too.
For best results, cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 to 2 hours to allow flavors to meld together. Dressing may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
To serve, place dressing in bottom of large bowl, add lettuce and gently toss until all leaves are coated. Serve family-style or individually plated. Fresh croutons and shaved parmesan cheese may be added for garnish, either atop the salad or on the side.
- Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs may increase the risk of foodborne illness, and we recommend using pasteurized eggs, if desired, or 2 to 3 tablespoons real mayonnaise instead.
- Use a salad spinner to ensure the lettuce is as dry as possible.
- A food processor may be used to blend the ingredients, following the steps in the recipe, and the garlic may be blended in too, if desired.
- For maximum juice, heat the lemons in the microwave on high for 20 to 40 seconds before squeezing.
Recipe Time Capsule
This week in...
- 2016: Last-Minute Holiday Appetizers
- 2015: Herb-Encrusted Prime Rib Roast
- 2014: Homemade Crescent Rolls
- 2013: Astrid Axtman's Swedish Spritz Cookies
- 2012: Norwegian Gravlax and Pickled Onions
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.