I spent a lot of time in my paternal grandmother’s kitchen watching her cook. She was British, so the meat was usually overcooked and the vegetables cooked to death, but for her time and generation, she was an amazing cook. Tender sweet pies, home canned chili sauce, homemade bread & cakes, Welsh cookies, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies and homemade ice cream are just some of the wonderful foods I remember from her kitchen. She had a huge garden with all types of vegetables, several fruit trees and raspberry bushes she turned into pints and pints of raspberry jam. My mother claimed she sent me to my grandmother’s house because she was afraid she was going to just up and kill me one day, but I think she was prone to exaggeration. There was no way I was that bad of a kid…
I ate everything and anything my grandmother made. I was the opposite of a picky eater as a child. I never met a food I didn’t like until anchovies came into my life. I remember it distinctly. Nearly every Tuesday night, we went as a family to a little Italian pizza joint for dinner. One night we had some friends with us and they ordered anchovies on their pizza. I remember asking them what anchovies were and being horrified at the answer. Who would want to eat little canned fish on their pizza, or anywhere else for that matter!
For years I would say I liked all foods except anchovies. It became kind of a catch phrase (I was a food geek from way back).
Then, one enchanted evening when I was in my twenties, while eating out, probably for an anniversary or something, I ordered a Caesar Salad. The heavens opened up, light shone from above, and I had a culinary moment of euphoria. I believed I had found the best salad ever!
I had to try it at home. The next issue of Gourmet Magazine (my Bible at the time) had an article on Caesar Salads and I ran from the mailbox back into the house, made a cup of coffee and sat down to devour it. I glanced at the ingredient list and froze. Anchovies? Hello? Really? I tried making the salad without the anchovies and it was good, but not the heaven opening culinary epiphany I had at the restaurant.
On my next trip to the market, I wore dark glasses and skulked in the tuna fish aisle, praying I wouldn’t meet anyone I knew. I was such an outspoken critic of the little critters, that it would be hard to explain why I was buying some. Even the cans looked disgusting. Then I saw a tube of anchovy paste. That might be a good compromise. I took it home and tried the salad again. Better, but not spectacular.
Finally, I swallowed my pride and with much sighing and moaning, bought a can of sardines. I tentatively opened the can, sniffed inside and nearly gagged. I muscled through and made the salad and it was absolutely wonderful. In true obsessive compulsive fashion, I started searching out recipes that used anchovies and made them all. I’ve had hundreds of Caesar Salads since then, constantly tweaking the recipe. Now I buy salt packed anchovies from specialty shops and put them whole on top of the salad as well as in the dressing.
I had to move away from my little town because of the shame, but it was worth being able to openly buy and eat those little savory salty suckers!
I still love a good Caesar Salad. Here’s the version I am currently making:
If you aren’t absolutely sure of the freshness and origin of your eggs, don’t use the egg yolk, the dressing with be ok without it.
- 2 cups cubed sour dough bread
- 3 T plus ½ cup of EVOO
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 6 anchovy filets
- 1 T Worcestershire sauce
- 2 t red wine vinegar
- 2 heads of romaine lettuce
- 1 egg yolk
- Parmesan shavings
- Put the cubes on a baking sheet, toss with 3 T of olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt
- Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown
- Peel the garlic and smash in the bottom of a large bowl with ½ t Kosher salt
- Smash 4 of the anchovies into the garlic mixture
- Whisk in the egg yolk Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and ½ t pepper
- Drizzle in ½ cup of olive oil, while whisking constantly
- Chop the lettuce and dump it over the dressing
- Mix thoroughly and then add croutons
- Mix again
- Garnish with additional anchovy filets