On my latest visits to New York I have been stopping by a fabulous, small, wood burning pizza place with a cozy atmosphere, wonderful, yummy pizzas and the most delicious crab cakes and Swiss chard Caesar salad on this planet. Every time I am there I tell myself that I will try something new and every time I am faced with the impossible choice – if I order something new, then I won’t be eating my favorite crab cakes and chard salad, which I have been dream-drooling for months. But if I order my favorites, then I won’t be trying something new, which could be as equally fabulous as the crab cakes and the salad. Some could argue that I should order all; my cakes, my salad and something new. And believe me I have done that, but to be honest, a girl can’t really eat that much food at once or her tummy will be hurting. The thought of not having (but constantly thinking of) the buttery crab cake and the lemony-parmesan chard salad is killing my food loving soul so, at the end, I do order my favorites, as you might have guessed.
Ever since the first time I had the creamy-lemony-parmesan dressing on the chard salad, I was blown away how something so simple can be so yummy and how wonderfully it complements the tender Swiss chard leaves. After my last visit I began my usual journey of trying to recreate this yummy salad so I can enjoy it ALL the time. First, I started with the dressing and I made all bunch of different versions of a homemade Caesar dressing, but the result was either too garlicky or too fishy or mustardy – something was not quite right and not quite as I remembered it. Then I started again from scratch, ignoring the classic Caesar recipes and went by taste memory. I started with a whole egg for a whiter, thicker consistency. I added lemon rind and a generous amount of lemon juice for freshness and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese for complexity. The final result was a creamy, lemony aioli which married so well with the delicate young spring chard leaves. I also added snap peas and asparagus to the salad since they are abundant at the farmers market at this time of the year. I finished the salad with warm sourdough croutons, tossed in the lemony dressing for yumminess. I was so happy with my recreation that I ate the salad for lunch and dinner every day for a whole week. And the dressing is just so delicious – I have been making a jar every week and spreading it on sandwiches or dipping chunks of bread while enjoying a class of wine when standing at the kitchen counter and watching reruns of Frasier.
So my dear friends, I do hope with all my heart that you will gather your courage and try this salad. And even if you don’t, I do hope that you grab a canvas bag andstop by your local farmers market, find some fresh green things, get inspired – either by me or other people and make something fresh, local and yummy.
Swiss Chard Caesar Salad
Serves 4 (medium size salads)
• 1 large lemon
• 1 large egg
• 1/2 cup of olive or sunflower oil
• 1 really small garlic clove, crushed
• 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• Salt and pepper
• 1 bunch of rainbow chard (preferably, tender and young leaves)
• 1 bunch fresh asparagus (about 16 asparagus), hard bottoms trimmed
• 2 handfuls of snap peas, strings removed
• 2 thick slices of sourdough bread
• Fresh Parmesan shaves for serving
Grate the rind of the lemon and set aside.
Break the egg in the food processor and whizz once or twice. Add the garlic. With the motor running on low start adding the oil slowly so it drips trough the top of the food processor. When all the oil is incorporated add the lemon zest, the juice of 1/2 lemon and the Parmesan cheese. Whizz until incorporated and add salt and pepper to taste. Taste again and add more lemon juice if you like it lemony (like me). If the dressing runs thin add 2-4 tablespoons of oil and whizz until it thickens. Be careful not to make it thick (like mayo) and if it gets too thick add a 1-2 tablespoons of water or lemon juice. Place the dressing in a jar and refrigerate.
Heat a small pan over medium-high heat. Tear the bread into uneven 1/2-inch chunks, toss liberality with olive oil and add to the pan. Turn the heat on low and toast the croutons by flipping them a few times until golden brown.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the asparagus. Remove the asparagus after 2-3 minutes and drop them immediately in a large bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process and to preserve their bright green color. Remove from the water after 2-3 minutes, pat dry, cut in half and set aside in a large bowl.
Clean the Swiss chard, wash and dry really well (this will ensure a nice coating of the dressing). Remove the stem and the central vein, tear the leaves into 2-inch chunks and add to the asparagus. Add the snap peas, the croutons and half of the dressing. Toss well with your hands, taste and add more dressing if desired (I like my salad smothered with dressing). Divide into 4 plates and top with the shaved Parmesan.