Caesar the first.

 

Cardini's Original Caesar dressing

The first Caesar Salad was made by an Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini, in Tijuana Mexico in 1924. The young Italian entrepreneur had arrived from Italy to Mexico with his 3 brothers where he opened a restaurant (to avoid the restrictions of prohibition) while also opening another restaurant in Sacramento California. His daughter Rosa later told how her father invented the dish on the 4th of July having run low on stock. Cardini rolled his service cart into the centre of the restaurant and created the Caesar salad with the only ingredients he had to hand: Romaine lettuce, lemons, eggs, garlic oil, croutons and parmesan cheese. With the added dramatic flair of the table-side salad toss by the chef, a legend was born. Some members of Cardini’s staff have said that they themselves invented the dish, but it cannot be denied that it was Cardini that popularised it. The salad became the fad of Hollywood celebrities especially when he opened Caesar’s Hotel there. So much so, that Cardini and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1935 where he focused on producing and marketing his salad dressing. He trademarked it in 1948. When he died of a stroke in 1956 his salad was a household name but when his daughter took control, the ‘Cardini’s Original Caesar Dressing’ grew to be a staple in American homes. It’s pretty good out of the bottle but as is (almost) always the case, it’s better to make you own version of the dressing and the Caesar Salad.

When making dressings, even if I end up using another recipe, I always refer to Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course book for technique and reassurance. It’s the grandmother of books.  If you like to cook and if you don’t have this book, I suggest you get it. You will not find another cookery instruction book more concise and comprehensive. It taught me how to cook exactly and how to cook with instinct also. As a scientist, I love it because nothing is missing and everything is in the right order. Fool-proof! I include here Darina’s Caesar salad dressing recipe. For the actual Caesar Salad, like Cardini, use what you have. We often make it as described below, but adding leftover Sunday roast chicken. But remember to keep the crunch of the Cos (Romaine) with the lettuce that you use, and the saltiness of the parmesan.

This recipe serves 4

Salad ingredients:

1 large Cos (romaine) lettuce

2 slices of white bread cut into ½ inch cubes for croutons

50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese (or similar e.g. Grana Padano or Percorino) freshly and coarsely grated

 

Darina Allen’s Caesar Salad Dressing ingredients:

50g (2oz) tin anchovies

2 egg yolks

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

A generous pinch of English mustard powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ – 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ -1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

(Note: Any remaining dressing not used will keep covering in the fridge for several days)

 

What to do: 

Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.

Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces and whisk.

As you whisk, add the oils slowly until the emulsion forms and then you can add a little faster. Whisk in water to make a thinner consistency.

Taste the dressing and season to taste.

To make croutons: heat olive oil and butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cubes of bread and fry till golden brown on all sides. Spread on kitchen paper to drain.

If you are watching the calories, you could just toast the bread and cube accordingly but you will get a guilt-free lack of real crunch.

To serve: put 1 tablespoon of dressing per person into a large bowl. Add the lettuce, about half the croutons and half the parmesan. Toss gently with your hands. Add more dressing if necessary to coat the leaves fully. Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining croutons and parmesan.

 

(This article appeared in The Western People – 27th April 2015)

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Return of the tea salad.

Heinz Potato Salad

In my house when I was small, you knew the weather was getting warmer not just from looking outside, but when the big hearty winter dinner was replaced with the tea salad. We didn’t call it a tea salad of course – it was just called ‘salad’ because it was the only form of salad available. It was the 1980s and the avant-garde tossed salad of the roaring 90s hadn’t arrived in Connemara yet. We felt incredibly sophisticated to have on our plates a leaf of butter head lettuce acting as a bowl to a small scoop of Heinz’s tinned potato salad. Slices of ham were rolled and propped up by a plain tomato cut in half or maybe quarters. Our mother would have boiled eggs earlier in the day and you watched them cooling in the saucepan wondering if they were going to be made into egg mayonnaise sandwiches or not… our favourite. If they made the salad, they were simply shelled and cut in half. We weren’t really Heinz salad cream people but more Hellman’s. There was any amount of homemade brown bread and warm tea. There were no dressings or oils or lollo rosso or radicchio but looking back on it, we loved those evenings. I went looking for a can of Heinz potato salad the other day but couldn’t find one. I wanted to see if it tasted the same. I’m glad I didn’t find it.

Warm weather food has taken on a different form today. After a day’s work, if the weather is good it’s a wonderful thing to come home and cook something that is quick to prepare, tasty and light but still filling. It gives you time to spend outside.  What we love in our house are kebabs or skewers that can be partially prepared in advance, usually the night before, by marinating the meat and then skewering on wooden skewers just before a very quick cook under a hot grill. They can be accompanied by noodles or homemade coleslaw or potato salad (Heinz or otherwise) or a green salad.

A favourite skewer of ours in the shop doesn’t require overnight marinating but does require a food processor.

 

Satay Chicken Skewers

This recipe serves 4

 

Ingredients for satay sauce

A small bunch of fresh coriander

1 fresh red chilli

1 clove of garlic peeled.

3 heaped tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter

A glug (2 tablespoons?) of Soy sauce

1 inch piece of fresh root ginger

2 limes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chicken:

4 x 180g chicken fillets

Pineapple pieces (optional)

 

SataySaucePrep

What to do:

  • Turn your grill on full blast. Soak 8 wooden skewers in a tray of water. If they float, place a plate on top to submerge them.
  • Assemble the food processor with the standard blade. Add the coriander, stalks and all; the red chilli stalk removed; the peeled garlic clove; the 3 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter; the glug of soy sauce; the roughly chopped piece of ginger; the zest of the 2 limes and the juice of one. Add a couple of splashes of water to help blitz it to a reasonably thick sauce consistency. Adjust seasoning if required. Put half of this sauce to one side for accompaniment for the cooked kebabs.
  • To the other half of the sauce, add the evenly diced chicken fillets (you will get about 6 pieces from each fillet). Coat all the pieces evenly with the sauce. Place about 3 pieces on each skewer, alternating them with a large chunk of pineapple if using. This will give you two kebabs per person.
  • Place under the hot grill for about 8 to 10 minutes each side or until bubbling golden and cooked through. You can check the thickest piece of chicken to make sure.
  • Serve with a noodle salad or rice. Spoon some of the reserved satay sauce over the kebabs at the table. The kids will love them.

 

Now we just have to wait for the weather!

 

(This article was published in The Western People on 20th April 2015)

Salsa Verde or Green Herb Sauce

Salsa Verde, or herb-y green-y sauce-y, as our girls call it, is a wonderfully herbaceous gooey sauce that has the most verdant green colour imaginable. When you blitz it in the blender, you turn a whole massive pile of ingredients into a few tablespoons of sauce, which you instinctively feel a little disappointed with, in terms of volume. But then you taste it… and you realise that a little goes a long way. We have used this sauce with most meats and poultry. We love to use it with lamb and one of our favourite recipes is Rosemary and Garlic Griddle Lamb, but we also use it often as a topping on grilled chicken fillets. The following recipe is the initial guideline you need to make your own original version of Salsa Verde.

Serves 4

Garlic: 1 small clove

Flat-leaf parsley: A good big handful with the coarse stalks removed

Basil: 15 to 20 leaves

Tarragon: Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs

Anchovy fillets: 4 to 5 fillets

Capers: About 1 teaspoon

Mustard (Dijon or English): About 1 teaspoon

Sugar: A pinch

Lemon juice or vinegar: A few drops

Extra virgin olive oil: 2 to 3 tablespoons

Freshly ground black pepper

Add all these ingredients to a food processor, and pulse to a saucy consistency.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the use of a food processor, finely chop the garlic on a large chopping board. Then add the herbs, anchovies, and capers and chop all together until fine in texture. Add to a mixing bowl, and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper, and when initially mixed, add enough olive oil to give a glossy saucy consistency. As soon as the sauce is complete, taste and tweak to your own liking.

This sauce is best made just before serving, but what’s leftover, if any, will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered or in a jar.

Salsa Verde on Rosemary and Garlic Griddle Lamb Bap

Photographs courtesy of Sarah Ní Shúilleabhain 2012.