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Salad Challenge

Hi -- here's my situation. I've been charged with the responsibility of providing a salad for a dinner party, and they requested a Ceaser. I'd like to make something a little less pedestrian and more interesting. Ceasers are great and all, but if I'm making something I want it to be fun, and different. I have some ideas, but can anyone suggest some salad/dressing ideas that would match with an Italian/Medditerranean meal? One thing I'm thinking of doing is making a parmesan bowl made from crisped parmesan and formed in a small serving bowl. Thanks in advance.

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  1. You could make a panzanella version of caesar... I think that would be awesome and would definitely go with the Italian theme!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Katie Nell

      How do you mean that -Panzanella version? Since croutons are part of it's make-up, I mean. Tomatoes added?

      1. re: oakjoan

        I'm not sure if it's traditional or not, but Michael Chiarello has four versions of panzanella, one for each of the seasons. The autumn version adds mushrooms, red onions, etc., but essentially, I just meant heavy on the croutons.

    2. My mother used to occasionally serve her Caesar by giving everyone a small ramekin of dressing and 8-10 smaller leaves from the hearts of several heads of romaine standing up in a small glass. You dipped a leaf into the dressing and then ate it by hand. The dressing had crumbled croutons mixed in and fresh parmigiana grated on top. Always a fun, alternative way of eating a Caesar.

      1. you might consider making the finest caesar known to man.

        make it special in the following way: make your own croutons with great bread, fresh garlic, good olive oil/butter. add Frico!! use super fresh Romaine. make the dressing with anchovy! (martha had a good recipe a few years ago - raw egg yolk, anchovy, the real deal).

        Or, if you must be different, make a mediteranean chopped salad with diced high-quality cukes (find middle eastern cukes if you can! they are smaller and downright fragrant), tomato, parsley, toasted pita, black olives, feta and a super lemony dressing (for recipes to work from, look up "fatoosh").

        Lastly, a humble parsley salad. Loads of blazing-fresh flat leaf parsley, perhaps a stalk of celery or fennel shaved on the bias. with a viniagrette composed of fruity olive oil, smashed capers, a whisper of garlic, sugar or honey, lemon juice and lemon peel. garnish with fried capers and teeny crisp croutons.

        1. Best salad with italian ingredients, eaten on the terrace on holiday in Sicily.

          leaves dressed in lemon and olive oil dressing, torn prosciutto and mozzarella and segmented peeled peaches, chiffonade of mint over. Yum.

          It's a bit fancy. And a bit costly if you're doing it for lots of people. And it's seasonal. But, it is good!

          It's more of a lunch in it's own right than a side dish though!

          Otherwise I fall back on tomato and finely sliced shallot dressed with salt, pepper and some malt, wine or sherry vinegar. And a rocket salad dressed with balsamic, salt, pepper, olive oil served with shaved parmesan.

          You could always antipasti it some more with roasted red/yellow peppers finely sliced with a garlic and oil dressing. Maybe serve around a plate with some roasted artichokes in the centre. Not really a salad, more of a side.

          1. Those all sound awesome. Thanks very much for the ideas, it was really helpful.

            1. How about a Tuscan tomato and bread salad? It's like a caprese salad in a bowl w/ bread (or more like bruschetta in a bowl). I've recommended this before but it's always a hit.


              2 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                Actually, that sounds perfect and I've wanted to make one of those for awhile now. Thanks.

                1. re: jamesm

                  Better hurry up then. It may already be too late for this year's tomatoes.

              2. Here's what I would do: Romaine, cured black pitted olives, thin rings of red onion, peel navel oranges and slice into rounds horizontally - like across the equator, toss in mustardy/garlicky vinagrette.

                1 Reply
                1. re: niki rothman

                  Niki's recipe is fantastic. I've made variations of it and it's a wonderful combo. On top of that, oranges are starting to get really good around now.

                2. You guys are awesome. these all sound delicious and fun to make. I'm going to keep these on record and try to put them into rotation around the house. I just spoke to the hostess and apparently caesar was a direct request from the guest of honour, and he doesn't exactly have a sophisticated idea of food and is expecting a creamy caesar dressing with 'no anchovies.' So, you can see the bind I'm in. Regardless, these ideas will be put to use. Thanks again.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: jamesm

                    Can I just say that a request this specific for a fairly simple dish like a salad, just seems inappropriate to me. If you are hosting a party and want to serve a Caesar salad made with phony Caesar dressing, why not just make one?

                    1. re: Kater

                      Maybe the OP offered to bring something and the easy salad fit the bill.

                      1. re: Kater

                        Well, a salad is a simple dish and I'm sure I can handle it. I thought I'd ask for some suggestions to make it more interesting. After I posted I found out that it was a specific request from the hostess for the phony caesar. I'm not asking how to make one, if that's not clear. That information was made available to me after I had asked for ideas. And innapropriate? That seems like a bit of an overstatement. It's not like I was asking for a recipe that involves puppies in a salty brine made from the tears of children. That would be innapropriate.

                        1. re: jamesm

                          "That would be inappropriate."

                          Also it would cause high blood pressure.

                          (It irks me when people accept a guest's offer to bring a dish and then dictate the selection, that's all.)

                          1. re: Kater

                            Sorry, I misunderstood. My apologies. I thought you meant my inquiry was innapropriate. Yes, I agree though. I thought I was being asked to make a dish, only to find out later that I'm basically being asked to buy a bottle of salad dressing.

                            1. re: jamesm

                              Well you intuited that a creamy "Caesar" would be the likely preference of the honored guest because he doesn't have particularly sophisticated taste, right?

                              I think that unless you've specifically committed to a phony Caesar, you could get away with making a better version provided that you just barely rub the bowl with garlic and go light on the anchovy. Rather than making the dressing at the table or even at the host's house, just prepare it ahead of time and bring it in a Rubbermaid.

                              I've served good Caesar salad to people who have no idea that they eat raw eggs and anchovies! They love the salad and what they don't know is improving their palates! : )

                    2. Don't know if this will be acceptable to your hostess, but I've had caesar with grilled romaine which was amazingly good. You grill the whole head of lettuce over a fairly high heat so you get blackening and charring of the leaf edges. Take it off quickly, you don't want to burn the whole head. The quick grilling gives the lettuce a smokiness which makes the whole salad a lot more interesting than standard caesar.

                      1. I would check with the host/ess about making changes to what they are expecting. In my dining group there is a rule that we make what we are assigned and we do not make "improvements" to what was planned. There are some who have wrecked a carefully balanced menu with their improvisations

                        1. Just to throw in my two cents after the fact, I do a sort of Southwest Caesar that involves adding green Tabassco to the (anchovy-laden) dressing base. I also add a bit of commercial chili powder to the garlic-olive oil mix that goes into making the croutons. Adding grilled chicken, seasoned or not, makes a great light meal.

                          1. jamesm, love the idea of the parmesan bowl and am now thinking of how to use this myself... Have you ever done it before? Did you dress the salad? Did the bowl go soggy? Were you intending to leave the bowl within a 'real' bowl or put it on a plate or what? Am very intrigued, I like serving things in edible dishes, like Raymond Blanc's coffee parfait in a chocolate espresso cup! (It's great fun but a pain in the neck to do! At the restaurant they also sugar coat ganache to make it look like sugar cubes... Some people have too much time on their hands!)

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ali patts

                              It was actually really simple, held it's shape well and didn't go soggy. I just put some shaved parm on a pan in a circle shape, heated it up until it had melted slightly and began to become an integrated mass. Then I removed it from the pan with tongs and pressed it into a small bowl to give it a shape. Once it had cooled, and become crispy I removed it from the bowl and added the salad and dressing. It worked perfectly. It had a beautiful latticed appearance and tasted great. I had also thought about doing the same thing, but shaping the parmesan over the handle of ladle, or spatula or some other rounded utensil to creat little crispy parmesan taco-type shells to add steak or chicken, etc...

                              1. re: jamesm

                                When I do parm crisps to dress up plates I sometimes mix in some breadcrumbs which gives more body. I tend to make these as triangles so hadn't thought of a bowl. When I do small bowls (for desert with biscuity mixture) I still form them by putting in to a bowl rather than draping them round a bowl, the only time I drape is with tuiles. I find the folds with wafer things are better when pushed in than draped over. But I have tried both, you may be happier the other way.