I have had a 25-year long love affair with Caesar salad. When I was in my twenties and poor (is that redundant?) my roommate and I scoured every Boston bistro and restaurant in pursuit of that perfect pairing of romaine and dressing. It wasn't easy. Getting Caesar salad just right is a tough balancing act. The dressing should be creamy without cloying; tangy, but not tart. It's like the perfect cocktail dress: sexy enough to grab his attention, yet classy so that he knows to behave like a gentleman. Suffice it to say that the venture was taking its toll on our budgets. Our twice weekly habit of dining out, even if all we ordered was water and that glorious salad, could not be sustained. We had to learn to make our own.
In the dark days before the internet, this was, in itself, a hassle. It meant either going to the library (remember those?) or perusing multiple cookbooks at Barnes and Noble. Nonsense. We were young and impulsive--how hard could it be to throw it together? It's just some oil, cheese and an egg . . . although we did like the one at the Westin that had the anchovies. Should we make it with anchovies? And was it romano or parmesan cheese? Whether to include vinegar spawned a real debate--was it simply an inferior substitute for lemon juice? As we were having these almost Talmudic like discussions in the check out line at our local Stop-n-Shop, we were interrupted by a middle-aged woman who had overheard us. Like an angel sent from on high, she shared with us her Caesar salad recipe. Of course we were skeptical. We were Caesar connoisseurs, and the thought that our quest had ended on a grocery store's linoleum under flourescent lights was beyond all reason and belief. Scribbled, however, on the back of a receipt, it has never failed me.
I rarely order Caesar salad at restaurants anymore because usually this one is simply better. It's become a staple at family gatherings, and is what I almost always bring to calm my nerves when I have to bring a dish to share with a group of strangers. I've watched dinner conversation stop midstream as my guests are caught off guard by the utter pleasure of what's happening in their mouths. This Caesar is my culinary go-to gal. Everytime I make it, I'm reminded that sometimes what you're looking for can be found in the most unlikely of places. Life is not only full of surprises, but it's made better and richer when you open yourself up to a gift from a stranger.
Blend the following in a blender: 1/4 cup white vinegar, 3/4 cup olive oil, one large clove of garlic, 1 container of anchovies packed in oil (flat, no capers), 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (Bonus: you can even use the cheap stuff in the green can), 1 raw egg, and 1 tsp dijon mustard.
Season with salt and pepper. Pour and toss over bite-sized romaine lettuce, sliced white mushrooms, and croutons. Top with fresh shredded parmesan-reggiano cheese (gotta use the good stuff here). Close your eyes and enjoy.