Zuni Cafe Cookbook: Steal the recipe, buy the book.
So the Wally’s event was great, as most food/wine hootenannys are (with a few exceptions). Drunkenness seemed to be kept to a minimum, probably since the heat had everyone sweating too much to retain the necessary alcohol levels.
Noteworthy: Abalone salad from Artisan in Paso Robles, the burrata-peeled cherry tomato tartlet from Spago and pan bagnat from Lucques, which may have served as my first step in getting over a long-held revulsion toward hard-boiled eggs. On the wine front: Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen continues to push on his Clendenen Family Vineyards label ("It’s my future," he said. And: "I don’t know anyone here. They’re all my neighbors who have opened wineries in the last five years."), a tiny vineyard poured a terrific Syrah (generally not one of my favorite varietals; checking on the name) and I really liked the blended Sauvignon Blanc, SYBARITE, from Margerum Wine Co.
Also this weekend: I cooked for a friend of Doug’s whose faith in Olive Garden needed to be rattled. Red pepper involtini (with homemade ricotta), Caesar salad, spaghetti with heirloom tomato sauce and what was supposed to be vanilla-caramel pudding but became a custard dipping sauce for the nectarines in our front yard because the pudding wouldn’t firm up (probably because I added nearly a cup of leftover honey caramel sauce I made ages ago and has been waiting patiently in the back of the refrigerator). The next day I added a pint of raspberries and turned the runny pudding into a quart of raspberry creme brulee ice cream. It’s terrific, which is unfortunate since I have no way of replicating the recipe.
Doug thinks I have too many cookbooks. He’s wrong, of course, but he’d be a lot more rabid on the topic if it weren’t for these these mew-fangled interwebs. It’s where I get most of my recipes, through Epicurious or Food Network or through random Google searches that let me discover sites like this one. However, there are certain books that you have to own because their recipes can’t be found online and no substitute will do. Judy Rodgers’ the Zuni Cafe Cookbook is that kind of resource.
The whole thing is pretty delightful, but there are three recipes that are dead solid perfect: Roast chicken, polenta and Caesar salad. I make the Caesar more often than everything else — probably more often than anything else. However, I still refer to the recipe because while I can throw it together, Rodgers’ proportions are so excellent that’s it’s worth the trouble to pull it out. (My book now opens to the right page on its own.) Anyway, the Caesar recipe is not available online.
Zuni Caesar Salad (aka the perfect Caesar, adapted from the most excellent Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
Good, chewy bread (about 4 or 5 oz.)
2 large heads romaine lettuce
1 T red wine vinegar
6-9 anchovy filets, rinsed
2 tsp. chopped garlic
2/3 c olive oil
2 large cold eggs
3 T fresh lemon juice
3 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/2 cups lightly packed)
A few pinches salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
FOR THE CROUTONS: Preheat oven to 350F. Tear the bread (whole or sliced) into crouton-sized chunks. Sweep the chunks into a large mixing bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss. Season lightly with salt and pepper; toss again. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 8-12 minutes, until lightly browned.
FOR THE SALAD: Trim off the leathery tops and the hard base; discard any leathery, yellowing or otherwise unworthy leaves. Some people only like the crunchy, sweet cores of romaine (which Trader Joe’s sells and work nicely here); others like some of the darker greens as well. Either way, the lettuce should be clean, dry and probably torn by hand, which makes it easier to see if there’s anything that needs to be tossed. You’ll need about 1 1/2 lbs. of usable leaves.
FOR THE DRESSING: (A note: Rodgers’ method is much more painstaking, but mine is faster and makes a creamy, nicely emulsified dressing.) In a blender, combine the vinegar, garlic, anchovies and olive oil; blend at high speed. Add the eggs (blend again), lemon juice (blend again) and about 1/2 the Parmesan (once more). Taste for salt (it will likely need a little) and pepper (grind plenty).
FOR ASSEMBLY: Place lettuce in a large salad bowl and add croutons; toss briefly. Drizzle with a little less dressing than you think you’ll need and toss again. Taste; add more dressing as needed, then sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan before tossing once more and serving immediately. This is a salad that loves to wilt, although nothing can stop it from tasting good; I’ve even had it for breakfast the next day.