For a long time, a restaurant was only suitable to me if the salad section of the menu included a caesar salad. For those happy years, I’d crunch through caesar salads without a care in the world. And then—somewhere around the early to midteen years—I was unfortunate enough to learn two facts: one about a certain caesar ingredient (anchovies) and the other about its nutritional data (specifically in the fat and calorie departments).
For my midteen-self these were dealbreakers both. I felt duped: how could a salad be so sinful? How could something so green be laced with hidden fish? The caesar, it had forsaken me.
Fortunately, my stance on fish—even tiny canned ones—and fat grams has become more moderate over the years. But I’ve just never felt the same about a caesar salad. It’s fine in concept, but in practice, it is all too often over-dressed, gloppy and unsatisfying.
But a few weeks ago, my friend Brynn brought over a veritable garden patch worth of romaine, along with a freshly made batch of caesar dressing, creamy and flecked with cracked pepper. Along with some golden croutons, it was the perfect salad.
Since then, I’ve been meaning to get the recipe from Brynn. But before I got around to it, the June issue of Gourmet showed up, proffering a version of the salad shot through with basil—boasting freshness and herbalness. Sold.
An egg and a garlic clove, some oil, the juice of a lemon and a palmful of basil sprigs later (and, fine, a squeeze from a tube of anchovy paste, but don’t tell anyone who doesn’t want to know), I am pleased to report that the caesar and I are back on again. I anticipate making up for lost time all summer long.
Basil Caesar Salad
As promised, the addition of basil made this salad brighter and lighter-tasting than your traditional caesar. But the traditional elements—the crunch of romaine, the kick of garlic, the richness of shredded parmesan, the deliciousness of caesar-swathed croutons—were all there too.
1 (10-inch) piece baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
1 large egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 package romaine hearts (1 pound), leaves separated and washed well, then halved crosswise
1 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.
Toss bread with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread out in 1 layer. Toast in oven, stirring halfway through, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, with motor running, drop garlic into a food processor and finely chop. Add egg, lemon juice, anchovy paste, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and pulse until combined. With motor running, add remaining 6 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, blending until emulsified. Add herbs and blend until dressing turns green and herbs are finely chopped.
Toss romaine with dressing, croutons, and half of cheese in a large bowl. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.