I love, love, love Caesar dressing in ways both appropriate and not. There's the classic salad, obviously. But try it on a BLT or a burger in place of mayo. Dip a grilled cheese sandwich into it. Think outside the salad, in other words.
But back to the salad. In Italy last summer, the daughter and I fell in love with the variety of cured meats that appeared in salads. Sopressata is one of my favorites. I love its slightly chewy texture and rustic appearance. It pairs beautifully with the chilly snap of romaine lettuce, and its flavor is strong enough to stand up well to fullness of the Caesar dressing. And rather than use the traditional cubed croutons, think about making great big dramatic ones. The easier to clean the plate at the end.
A note about the dressing. When I owned a restaurant and had access to pasteurized egg yolks by the quart, Caesar dressing was a cinch to make. But when I started teaching home cooks to make it, I ran into all sorts of fears about it. Of course, there are the anchovies. And also raw yolks. So I decided to cut out one of them. Since yolks + oil + seasonings = mayonnaise, I taught them to start with that. So then we were down to the anchovies. I would first make the dressing with all ingredients except them, and we'd taste it. Not bad. Then I'd add the anchovies, purée it all up, and have another taste. To a one, those with anchovy phobia routinely agreed that the dressing couldn't do without them. As for starting with mayonnaise, well, to my knowledge, the Caesar police haven't burst in on anyone yet. —boulangere
Measure all ingredients except salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Purée until completely blended. Stop motor and scrape down sides of bowl, then purée once more.
Taste the dressing before seasoning with salt and pepper. Remember those anchovies! Blend once more after seasoning.
If you don't plan to use all the dressing at once, it will hold in the refrigerator for about a week.
One head of romaine will make enough salad for 2 to 4 people, depending upon how large the salads are: lunch size or side salad size with dinner, or great big ones as dinner. Leave the entire head of romaine intact. To wash it, hold it vertically under cold running water. Turn it upside down and shake the water out of it. Set it in a dish drainer or colander upside down to drain while you prepare the croutons.
To make the croutons, set your oven to broil. Slice the bread 1/4" thick. Brush each side with some olive oil. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and toast both sides to a deep golden brown under the broiler, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from oven and rub each side with pieces of cut garlic. Allow to cool while you make the salad.
Give the head of romaine a couple of good shakes to remove the last of the water. With the head still intact, move it to a cutting board. Remove any unsightly leaves from the outside. Trim off the rounded ends of the lettuce so that the top of the head is squared off. Keep the ends for another salad, or feed them to bunnies or chickens or ducks.
Beginning at the stem end, make 3 vertical cuts through all leaves of the lettuce, dividing it into approximately equal thirds. Then cut the lettuce into 1" wide ribbons. Stop when you get near the core.
Transfer the lettuce to a large salad bowl. Add the matchsticks of sopressata. Add the dressing, then toss to distribute well.
Arrange salad on plates. I like to use a peeler to shave a few large curls of Parmesan over the salad, but use a grater if you prefer. Feel free to add a few whole anchovies to the salads. Place 2 big, beautiful croutons on the side of each plate. Serve immediately.