If Caesar Cardini, creator of the caesar salad had lived in Tuscany instead of Tijuana, this might be the way a caesar would look. But my inspiration for an Italian interpretation of this classic came from that fine city of Nashville. While seated at the chef’s bar at City House restaurant with my Nashville musical ambassador and dining companion, Jack, we shared a tasty kale salad vinaigrette with dollops of seasoned crushed potatoes. I kept thinking how welcome something warm and crispy would be in the dish. Thoughts turned to a Nigella Lawson recipe for caesar with baked potato “croutons”, and the wheels began to spin.
In my version, mineral flavors of tender leaves of kale stand in for romaine, the bulk of the salad. Crispy baked circles of new potatoes laced with garlic and crunchy flakes of sea salt replace the expected and often ho-hum bread croutons. And although the original caesar was without the addition of anchovy, I crave the oceanic brine flavor the fish brings to the whole. Finding my pantry devoid of anchovies, I turned to another now-staple in my kitchen, that “bacon of the sea”, as deemed by other Nashville friend, Claudia, the dried mullet roe known as bottarga. The bottarga played beautifully, and if I daresay, perfectly. The combination of flavors and textures in my new and to my taste, improved, version of caesar is so utterly scrumptious – crunchy, salty, greens-sweet and juicy – that I ate it for three straight days in a row.
Starting my salad with some of the gorgeous produce I had received from Chef’s Garden – leaves of red and lancinato kale so small and tender that I could leave them whole and with stems. Tiny new potatoes, both yellow and red, and irresistible little stalks of yellow-blossoming baby bok choy – not Italian, but a totally harmonious team player.
Into a hot 400 oven went the thin circles of potato tossed in a light slick of olive oil and spread on a baking sheet to roast – at this size 10-15 minutes was all the time required. Some minced garlic was stirred in for the last 5 minutes before they were tipped out on to paper towels, sprinkled with coarse salt and kept warm while I dressed the bowl of greens.
The kale was dressed with just enough good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to lightly coat the leaves. In went a quivering coddled egg, a few dashes of worcestershire, and gently toss, toss, tossed. Some squeezed lemon juice to taste and grindings of black pepper. Next, finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and the bottarga – about three parts parmesan to one part dried roe – and tossed again. Tasted and adjusted accordingly. Topped with the warm potatoes and served with additional parmesan and grated bottarga mixed together on the side.
“Through Veggie U, we provide the educational opportunities children need to make healthy selections through hands-on activities, kids’ classes on the farm and educational kits sent to the schools that include such things as seed and soil packets. Kids learn that vegetables can taste great – that they can be packed with flavor and nutrition if grown properly and with care as they are at The Chef’s Garden® This year, more than 1,000 youngsters visited us to learn about good nutrition!”
Be on the lookout for my FANTASTIC PRIZE GIVEAWAY in conjunction with Farmer Lee Jones of Chef’s Garden!