I had a need for a finger friendly salad a few nights ago, so I turned to my friend, the romaine lettuce. My kids call pieces of romaine the crunchy guys. They’ll eat the darker and more bitter stuff because I tend to serve it more often, but oh how they love the mild romaine. It’s like the iceberg lettuce of my childhood. We often have a bag of hearts in the fridge. They so easily become the base of a salad, a clean canvas ready to stand up to any combination of flavors. Stripped down to the crunchier core, they’ll last a week or so in the fridge in a bag.
Before I turn to my simple dressed up Caesar, I want to mention another romaine favorite in my house. Most recently I found a whole head that looked fresh at the market, so I took it home, and sliced it directly in half lengthwise through the core.
For the dressing, I sautéed one julienned red pepper, and one thinly sliced red onion in olive oil and generous kosher salt, until both were softened and gently browned on the edges. When they were done, I shut off the heat and splashed a bit of sherry vinegar into the pan, then scraped up the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan as the liquid was cooling down.
I simultaneously heated up a grill pan. I’ve got a Le Creuset that can go on top of my range, but you could also open up your panini machine flat (if it does that), and use it as well. Of course, in the summer, I’ve used my Weber propane, if I already have it on for something else. Using a pastry brush, gently coat the cut sides of the romaine head with olive oil. Grill the lettuce on the heated pan, cut side down, about only 2 minutes on high. Remove from the heat when there are grill marks on the lettuce. This is such a great trick. It looks impressive and different, but more importantly it gives the lettuce multiple taste dimensions. Parts of the romaine have wilted slightly and others will remain crisp.
Pour the warm dressing from the pan over the top of the grilled romaine heads.
This is wonderful enough just as is, but again I’ll urge you to think creatively about your pantry here. Add a handful of toasted pine nuts to the top, perhaps bacon, or shaved pecorino. I know what you should do; add all three if you have them around.
Back to the Caesar. When you buy a bag of romaine hearts, the darker softer (and more vitamin rich) leaves have been removed. You are left with the inner leaves that are quite sturdy. They can be used as small edible plates to hold a number of different salad toppings. This night I chose to go with the standard Caesar flavors.
1. Separate the leaves of a romaine heart and spread them into a single layer onto the plate you intend to serve the salad.
2. Sprinkle croutons (see recipe for puff pastry croutons below), shaved parmagiano, and crumbled bacon evenly onto each leaf.
3. Drizzle with your favorite Caesar dressing. (I’ll include my fav in a later post)
Puff pastry croutons
1. Defrost puff pastry overnight in the fridge or on the kitchen counter for two hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry dough until it is about twice the original size.
4. Generously sprinkle with finely grated parmagiano cheese. Use the rolling pin to gently push the cheese into the dough.
5. Use a pizza cutter to cut puff pastry dough into 1/2 inch squares. Unbaked squares will come off the counter with a pastry bench scraper or a thin spatula.
6. Bake squares about 5-7 minutes, but do not rely on a timer. Depending on how defrosted your puff pastry is, it could be faster or longer. Remove them from the oven when they are medium brown.
7. These are best enjoyed within a couple hours of baking. Use them for salads or soup, or just right off the pan.