Saturday, February 23, 2013

Caesar Salad Bites in Parmesan Cups

I started thinking about Caesar salad the other day.  I love a good Caesar, although it's remarkable how frequently a Caesar is relegated to a shadow of its ideal self: Less than crisp romaine lettuce, drowning in heavy bottled dressing and topped with a Parmesan-like cheese that more closely resembles the stuff in a green can rather than the shavings off of a block.  And the croutons!  It's almost too much to bear.

I thought it might be fun to re-imagine the Caesar.  What about Caesar as an hors d'oeuvre?  I think the croutons are always too big and have to be chased with a fork... can we fix that?  After mulling it over, here's what I came up with.  I molded Parmesan wafers (called frico) over mini-muffin tins while they were still hot from the oven; once cool, I lightly filled them with finely shredded romaine tossed lightly in a homemade dressing, with crushed croutons adding texture as they clung to the leaves.

I think this would be a fun appetizer to serve with cocktails, perhaps alongside another classic that's been revamped, like these French Onion Soup Bites from Gourmet Live.

Caesar Salad Bites in Parmesan Cups
Makes 24 mini bites
Click here for printable recipe

4 small cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets (use them! I promise it won't make things taste fishy)
juice of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
1/4 t. sea salt
3/4 t. ground black pepper
1 1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 c. olive oil

1 small head romaine lettuce

1 c. croutons (I like Simply Recipe's basic stove-top crouton recipe, with a little black pepper tossed into the mix)

Special tools:  1 24-muffin mini-muffin tin turned upside down, parchment paper, mini processor or blender

Make the parmesan cups:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a SilPat.  Create 12 mounds of parmesan (2 teaspoons each) on the parchment paper, and gently flatten each mount out into a flat 2" circle using the bottom of a juice glass.  Bake for 7-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and very lightly browned.  Open the oven door and slide out the baking rack (leaving the cookie sheet on the rack).  Working one frico at a time, use a spatula to transfer each frico to the bottom of a mini muffin cup.  When all frico have been shaped, repeat the process to create 12 more frico.

To make the Caesar dressing, add the garlic, anchovies (use them!), lemon juice, and egg yolks to the bowl of a mini food processor or blender.  Pulse several times until the garlic and anchovies have been very finely chopped and the mixture is slightly frothy.  Add 1/4 c. of the Parmesan cheese, along with salt and pepper to the processor bowl and pulse again to incorporate the cheese.  Then, with the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the lid of the processor until everything is smooth and well incorporated.  Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Transfer the croutons to a zip-top bag, and crush them with a rolling pin or a heavy can so that the crumbs are about the size of English peas.  Very finely chop the romaine lettuce, removing any large stems.  Transfer 2/3 c. of the Caesar dressing to the bottom of a large bowl and add romaine on top of the dressing.  Toss the lettuce to incorporate the dressing; adding more Caesar if needed.  Add the crushed croutons and toss once more.

Add a heaping tablespoon of the salad inside each Parmesan cup and serve.

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