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How to Make Nancy’s Famous Caesar Salad

Written by the YesChef staff

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Nancy Silverton Teaches her California Cuisine
Nancy Silverton Teaches her California Cuisine
Nancy Silverton
Teaches her Carlifonia cuisine
The Caesar salad is one of the world’s favorite starter dishes. And chef Nancy Silverton’s rendition of the Caesar Salad – the Spacca Caesar – is a uniquely delicious twist on this restaurant classic. Here, we share with you her secret Caesar salad recipe which – in both taste and presentation – elevates the classic Caesar salad from the ordinary to the spectacular. You will also learn in this article some interesting information about the Caesar salad, such as its origins as well as some different ways of making a homemade Caesar salad.
Nancy Silverton
Teaches her Carlifonia cuisine

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What Is Caesar Salad?

A classic Caesar salad recipe contains five ingredients: romaine lettuce, garlic croutons, Caesar salad dressing, anchovies, and Parmesan cheese. Nancy takes that classic Caesar salad recipe up a notch by fusing it with bagna càuda, a delicious Italian dipping sauce. She also adds complexity to the traditional Caesar salad with ingredients like shaved cauliflower, fried parsley, and escarole, which is a type of endive (used rather than romaine lettuce) that adds texture and bitterness to the dish and perfectly balances out the creaminess of the Caesar salad dressing. But before we begin with this simple yet exciting Caesar salad recipe, here’s a bit of history.

Origins of the Caesar Salad

Believe it or not, the Caesar salad is said to have been invented in 1924 – not in the United States or in Italy but inside a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. And it was not named, as you might assume, after the Roman emperor but (allegedly) after Caesar Cardini, owner of Caesar’s, a hotel restaurant in the seedy border town.  As the salad story goes, Caesar Cardini – an Italian immigrant to the U.S. who had opened the eatery south of the United States border because alcohol was then prohibited in the U.S. (Tijuana had become a Las Vegas-like destination where rich and famous Americans went to drink and gamble, etc.) – conjured up his legendary salad by accident.  It was July 4 – Independence Day in the U.S. – and with his restaurant busy with hungry and celebratory Americans, Cardini started running out of food. The quick-thinking Caesar Cardini improvised a salad with whatever he could rummage up in the kitchen: romaine lettuce, raw egg yolks, Parmesan cheese, and Worcestershire sauce among other ingredients. And the rest, as they say, was, well…legend.

Ways to Make Caesar Salad

There are all sorts of creative ways to serve Caesar salad. First of all, your homemade Caesar salad dressing can be used with leafy green vegetables besides romaine lettuce: Brussels sprouts, kale, cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli to name a few possibilities. Some popular main dishes that make excellent company alongside Caesar salads are pizza, eggplant parmesan, and pastas of all varieties.  Caesar salads themselves can also be eaten as main courses if you incorporate proteins into them like meatballs or shrimp or grilled chicken breast. One of the best Caesar salad recipes consists of a soft-boiled egg, grilled chicken slices, cherry tomatoes, an avocado, and bits of bacon to go with the classic Caesar salad dressing. Other ingredient spinoffs on the traditional Caesar include toppings like grated parmesan cheese instead of shaved parmesan cheese and barbecued romaine hearts grilled with oil. There’s also nothing stopping you from making a chicken Caesar sandwich, a Caesar salad starring asparagus, or even a Caesar salad featuring pasta noodles such as macaroni.

Homemade Croutons

A Caesar salad without the crunchiness of croutons – without the taste and texture of those delicious little baked bread cubes or shreds – is severely lacking. Croutons can be made from both fresh bread and from bread that is a day or two old. Croutons are the perfect excuse, Nancy says, to use bread that isn’t perfectly fresh. (Save your fresh bread for the dinner table, she says.)  The best breads to use for your homemade croutons are handmade and rustic (as opposed to thin, overly-soft sandwich breads) To maximize crispiness, sourdough breads and baguettes are great to bake with. Other breads that can be made into great Caesar salad croutons are pita bread, Ciabatta bread, and Paesano bread. 

When you imagine croutons, you might imagine them in the form of cubes, but in her Spacca Caesar Nancy uses pieces of bread that are irregularly and craggily-shaped, which gives the croutons a more interesting texture and make them look and taste more homemade. She accomplishes this by pulling out the middle of her bread loaf and then tearing off small pieces of bread. Seeing perfectly-square baked bread cubes, Nancy says, gives her the suspicion that the croutons were bought at a store.

Caesar Salad Dressing

Caesar salad recipes can vary wildly, but no Caesar salad recipes are complete without the presence of creamy Caesar salad dressing. The traditional Caesar salad dressing recipe is made of Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon juice, raw egg yolk, anchovy paste, and Worcestershire sauce. Additional ingredients, however, can be terrific, too, to make the dressing for your Caesar salad recipe. These include salt and pepper (freshly-ground black pepper being ideal), olive oil, garlic, Dijon mustard, garlic, mayonnaise, and / or honey. You can even make a vegan dressing by preparing your recipe without anchovies, Parmesan cheese, and raw egg yolks. For replacements, try tahini to add creaminess and capers to provide the savory taste that you would lose if you don’t use anchovies. And once again, adding fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper, garlic, and dijon mustard are great additions.

Nancy Silverton's Caesar Salad Recipe

Preparation time Hands-on: 30 minutes | Total: 50 minutes Serving size 5 servings   Spacca Caesar Salad Preparation    There are four key stages to recreating Nancy Silverton’s Spacca Caesar salad: 1) Making the bagna càuda sauce; 2) Making the bagna càuda croutons; 3) Making Caesar salad dressing; and 4) Making fried parsley. Let’s begin with Nancy’s bagna càuda recipe.    Step 1: Bagna Càuda (Sauce)  Bagna Càuda Ingredients
  • 1 cup Spanish oil-packed anchovy (omit if making for Caesar croutons)
  • 1 hot red chili pepper (recommended: Calabrian or Thai bird)
  • 1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped (omit if making for Caesar croutons)
  • 20 anchovy fillets (preferably salt-packed), rinsed, backbones removed if salt-packed, finely chopped and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
Bagna Càuda Gear
  • Microplane
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Saucepan with lid
Bagna Càuda Method   
  • Combine unsalted butter and extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Smash 20 anchovy fillets and 12 large garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle until ground together. (Alternatively, you can chop the anchovies into a paste with a knife and use a Microplane to grate the garlic.)
  • Once the butter completely melts, add the anchovy-garlic paste and the chili.
  • Cook over medium-low heat until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant, for 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Stir constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown.
  • Reduce the heat to low and cook the bagna cauda for another 2 to 3 minutes to meld the flavors.
  • Turn off the heat and let the bagna sauce rest in the pan until ready to use it.
  • Use the Bagna Cauda as a dipping sauce for your potatoes.
  • If serving with bufala mozzarella and sauces with fett’unta, stir in Italian parsley before serving and float a Spanish anchovy on top for presentation and serve warm.
  • Before guests arrive, mark all kitchen implements and vessels with post-it notes to match courses to their perfect serving pieces.
  • Stir to recombine the ingredients before serving and from time to time when it is on the buffet or dinner table.
Step 2: Bagna Càuda Croutons Bagna Càuda Croutons Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Bagna càuda
  • 1/2 lb rustic bread, fresh or day-old
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 Spanish oil-packed anchovy (omit if making for Caesar croutons)
  • 1 cup Italian parsley finely chopped (omit if making for Caesar croutons)
  • 1 hot red chili pepper (such as Calabrian or Thai bird)
  • 20 anchovy fillets (preferably salt-packed), rinsed, with back-bones removed if salt-packed, finely chopped, and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 8 tablespoon unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bagna Càuda Croutons Gear
  • Sheet pan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Microplane 
  • Saucepan (with a lid)
  • Mortar and pestle 
Bagna Càuda Croutons Method 
  • Before you prepare the bagna cauda croutons, begin by preparing the bagna cauda sauce according to the bagna cauda sub recipe.
  • Have the sauce at room temperature and omit the chopped parsley and Spanish anchovy. (Note: you will only need ½ cup of the bagna cauda sauce for the croutons.)
  • Adjust the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Pull out the soft inside of rustic bread and tear into 1 to 1 ½-inch pieces, leaving the hard crust behind.
  • Put the bread chunks in a mixing bowl and drizzle the prepared bagna cauda sauce over the bread chunks, tossing with your hands to coat.
  • Transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown and crispy, tossing and rotating the pan halfway through baking for even browning.
  • Remove the croutons from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Step 3: Caesar Salad Dressing Caesar Dressing Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano), finely grated
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin oil
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce, e.g. Tabasco
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar (plus more to taste)
  • 2 limes (plus more to taste)
  • 10 anchovy fillets (preferably salt-packed), rinsed, backbones removed if salt-packed, finely chopped and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (plus more to taste)
Caesar Dressing Gear
  • Rubber spatula
  • Microplane
  • Food processor or mortar and pestle
Caesar Dressing Method
  • In a measuring cup or bowl, combine the lime juice, red wine vinegar, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
  • In a measuring cup with spout, combine the extra virgin olive oil and canola oil.
  • In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine egg yolks and kosher salt. Microplane the garlic cloves into the processor bowl and pulse to combine.
  • Finely chop the anchovies and add them to the mixture.
  • Turn on the processor and slowly add the extra virgin oil through the lid. Blend continuously until the oil and egg are emulsified and creamy.
  • Turn off the machine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add half of the lime juice-vinegar mixture. Pulse to combine.
  • Add the remaining oil in a slow, steady drizzle. When the dressing gets very thick, add the remaining lime-vinegar mixture.
  • Taste. Adjust seasoning with more lime juice, hot sauce, or salt as desired.
  • Add ground pepper and Parmesan cheese. Process for a few seconds to incorporate into the dressing.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Transfer the dressing into a bowl and set aside.
Step 4: Fried Parsley  Fried Parsley Ingredients  
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves with a little stem attached, well-dried
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves (with a little stem attached), well-dried
  • Canola oil for frying
Fried Parsley Gear
  • Mesh strainer or slotted spoon
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Paper towels
  • Deep fry thermometer
  • 1 medium-size saucepan
  Fried Parsley Method
  • Wash and thoroughly dry the parsley to prevent oil from splattering during frying.
  • Fill a saucepan 2 inches deep with canola oil.
  • Use a deep-fry thermometer and heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F (167°C).
  • Create a bed of paper towels while the oil is heating.
  • Turn off the heat and carefully add dry parsley leaves to the hot oil, taking care not to overcrowd the saucepan.
  • The parsley will float up, fry it for 5 seconds until crisp and the bubbles subside.
  • Lift the leaves out of the oil using a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and spread them out on the paper towels to drain.
  • Repeat the process with the remaining parsley leaves then season with kosher salt and set aside.
  Building the Caesar Salad Rome wasn’t built in a day. But a delicious Caesar salad can be built in less than an hour. Here is what you’ll need to complete Nancy’s Caesar recipe.     Caesar Salad Ingredients 
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • Wedge of Parmesan cheese
  • 1 orange
  • 6 anchovy fillets in oil (recommended: Cetara)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 lemon, freshly squeezed…to make fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 head escarole, blanched and root-trimmed
  • 1/4 head cauliflower, with core intact
  • Caesar dressing 
Caesar Salad Gear 
  • Knife
  • Mandoline
  • Microplane
  • Decorative serving platter
  • Cutting board
  • 1 large mixing bowl
  Once all the individual ingredients have been prepared – and once your Caesar salad gear is ready to go, it’s time to build and present the final, unified dish.  Caesar Salad Method
  • Cut off and discard the root end of 1 escarole.
  • Remove any dark green outer leaves so that only the tender, light yellow leaves remain.
  • Tear the leaves from the core then put them in a large mixing bowl.
  • Season the leaves with salt and fresh lemon juice, tossing to combine.
  • Use a mandoline to cut the cauliflower into ⅛-inch thick slices.
  • Optional: Drizzle 1 cup of the Caesar dressing and gently toss with your hands and massage to coat the escarole.
  • Add the cauliflower and toss again to coat, adding more dressing if needed.
  TO SERVE: 
  • Build the salad in two layers on plates or a decorative platter and grate Parmesan cheese over the top.
  • Arrange half of the cauliflower slices to cover.
  • Scatter half of the bagna croutons on top and drape half of the anchovies over the croutons.
  • Build the second layer using the remaining escarole, cauliflower, croutons, and anchovies.
  • Create a thin blanket of grated Parmesan cheese over the entire dish.
  • Scatter fried parsley on the top of the salad, and season with several generous turns of ground pepper.
  • Finally, use a microplane to zest the orange over the top.
  • Serve immediately to prevent the crunchy croutons from becoming soggy.

Nancy's Caesar Salad

Serves: 5
|
Hands-on: 30 min
|
Total: 50 min

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound rustic bread
    fresh or day old
  • 8 tablespoon unsalted butter
    (1 stick), cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Bagna cauda
    Lesson 6 goes in depth on how to make bagna cauda.
  • 20 anchovy fillets
    (preferably salt-packed), rinsed, back-bones removed if salt-packed, finely chopped, and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 Spanish oil-packed anchovy
    (omit if making for Caesar croutons)
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 hot red chili peppers
    such as (Calabrian or Thai bird)
  • 1 cup Italian parsley
    finely chopped (omit if making for Caesar croutons)

 

GEAR

  • Saucepan
    with a lid
  • Mixing bowl
  • Sheet pan
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Microplane

Recipe

  • Before you prepare the bagna cauda croutons, begin by preparing the bagna cauda sauce according to the bagna cauda sub recipe.
  • Combine unsalted butter and extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Have the sauce at room temperature and omit the chopped parsley and Spanish anchovy. Note: you will only need ½ cup of the bagna cauda sauce for the croutons.
  • Smash 20 anchovy fillets and 12 large garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle until ground together.
  • Adjust the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Alternatively, you can chop the anchovies into a paste with a knife and use a Microplane to grate the garlic.
  • Pull out the soft inside of rustic bread and tear into 1 to 1 ½-inch pieces, leaving the hard crust behind.
  • Once the butter completely melts, add the anchovy-garlic paste and the chili.
  • Put the bread chunks in a mixing bowl and drizzle the prepared bagna cauda over the bread chunks, tossing with your hands to coat.
  • Cook over medium-low heat until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Stir constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown and crispy, tossing and rotating the pan halfway through baking for even browning.
  • Reduce the heat to low and cook the bagna cauda for another 2 to 3 minutes to meld the flavors.
  • Remove the croutons from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • Turn off the heat and let the bagna sauce rest in the pan until ready to use it.
  • Use the Bagna Cauda as a dipping sauce for your potatoes.
  • If serving with bufala mozzarella and sauces with fett’unta, stir in Italian parsley before serving and float a Spanish anchovy on top for presentation and serve warm.
  • Before guests arrive, mark all kitchen implements and vessels with post-it notes to match courses to their perfect serving pieces.
  • Stir to recombine the ingredients before serving and from time to time when it is on the buffet or dinner table.
Nancy Silverton Teaches her California Cuisine
Nancy Silverton Teaches her California Cuisine

Nancy Silverton

James Beard Award-winning chef, best-selling cookbook author, and the restaurateur behind Michelin-starred Mozza, Nancy Silverton takes viewers on a journey from her home in Panicale, Italy, to her home in Los Angeles. Viewers learn a range of Nancy’s renowned dishes, including her signature Caesar Salad, Chi Spacca Pepper Steak, 10+ vegetarian dishes, Mom’s Apple Pie, and more.

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