favorite, fast caesar salad

toss together a fast caesar salad for a lemony, crunchy, healthy flavor bomb

Spring is a time of year when I crave change. Tired of the dark clothes, the winter routine and the root vegetables. Waiting for the first asparagus to appear in the market – and as the temperature hit an unseasonable 72 this week in New York – I made my favorite weekday salad. It’s a citrus bomb on crispy Romaine lettuce with olive oil drenched croutons, garlic and Parmesan curls.

Make this for lunch (if you bring it to work, carry the dressing in a separate container to keep it from getting soggy). It’s also good for a light supper. This Caesar has all the components to make it interesting and filling. To me, that means crunch, freshness, protein and flavor. It’s not a new twist on the classic, except for its extreme lemon zing. And it doesn’t have raw egg because I find that a bit gluey.

It’s totally adaptable. Want the Provence vibe of anchovies? Must have bacon on almost everything? Feel like you need a runny poached egg sitting on top? Have spare fresh herbs you can chop and scatter? All of these would be excellent additions.

Crouton note: we love bread in this house but often end up with half loaves that are not their freshest. These either get cut into croutons (minus the crusts, to spare our teeth) or thrown in the food processor and shredded into bread crumbs. Our freezer always has a supply of each at the ready. To bring them back to life, heat a little olive oil in a skillet and toast the (frozen) croutons or bread crumbs, both of which can be added to many dishes to bring texture, such as pasta, meat, fish, sauteed vegetables, salads, etc.

When I lived in France, I learned to make dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. Rub a clove of garlic on the inside of a dry, empty bowl. Then add salt, herbs, pepper, lemon juice and vinegar. If you have time, let that sit a while (30 minutes is good). Then whisk in olive oil to emulsify (thicken). No muss, no fuss. Thank you, Bridget Strevens, for teaching me this many years ago!

The ingredients are all pantry staples, things one should have around for everyday cooking. It’s vegetarian, healthful and quick to assemble. And it makes me feel like I’m sitting in a café terrace, warmed by the first blush of spring.

Lemony Caesar Salad

Serves 2

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups croutons (crustless stale bread cut into cubes)
1 clove of garlic, smashed and peeled
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
4 big fistfuls of chopped Romaine lettuce
1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, peeled into curls with a vegetable peeler
Chives for garnish (optional)

Make the croutons by heating 2 tablespoons of oil over a medium-low heat and crisping the bread slowly, taking care that it doesn’t burn. Turn to brown at least two sides of the bread cubes. Set aside.

Rub the inside of a salad bowl with the smashed garlic clove and throw the garlic into the bowl.

Put all the dressing ingredients in the bottom of a salad bowl (zest, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley and anchovies if you’re so inclined), except the oil. Let it sit and macerate for about 30 minutes.

Whisk in the oil slowly to emulsify the dressing.

Throw the lettuce on top. Sprinkle with croutons and Parmesan. Scatter chives over the salad. Toss at the table and serve.