Let’s talk salads. I love salads. Love, love, love them. I’m so excited that we’re getting into the season when the vegetable garden produces lovely little baby lettuces and vegetable CSA’s send you home with more fresh salad greens than you quite know what to do with. Now, if I’m wearing my “I studied nutrition” hat (which, by the way, I’m pretty sure is a fashionable and sleek little cloche) I will expound on how a good salad can make a very satisfying meal, just use lots of veggies, add a little protein in the form of fish, beans, nuts, or lean meat, and use a small amount of an olive oil based dressing. A delicious meal with lots of room for mixing and matching your ingredients!
But, not today. Today, I’m wearing my “butter is a health food!” hat (which may or may not be one of those awesome hats made out of balloons), and I’m here to make you a salad offer you can’t refuse. An offer that includes a crumbly, buttery crust (like a giant crouton on the outside!!), a silky cheesy layer of custard, and a zesty crunchy Caesar-style topping. An offer that looks something like this tart.
The happy idea for putting a Caesar salad on top of a tart was born out of the confluence of two events. First, I saw a picture of a tart topped with mixed greens on Tartelette, and I thought to myself, “I bet I could figure out how to make something like that.” Second, the fun website Food52 (by two food writers for the NYT) had a contest for “your best Caesar salad,” which reminded me, “Hey! You used to make homemade Caesar dressing a lot. What ever happened to that.” So then I got to work to make a tart topped with a salad with Caesar dressing. And boy did the results turn out scrumptious!
Both Caesar salad dressing and tarts are surprisingly easy to make, I find. But, of course, you can take or leave any part of the idea you want. Just make the Caesar salad, or just the tart, or top the tart with a totally different sort of salad. If you’re worried about the tart aspect because you don’t have a tart pan, do not fear! I don’t either. I wound up using a bread loaf pan, and it worked fine. You could also use a pie pan and not remove the tart from it before serving.
I added Parmesan cheese to the tart filling to complement the Parmesan in the salad dressing. Also, I discovered that if you want to make a sort-of quiche filling, but not so eggy and therefore reduce the number of eggs you use, focusing on the cream, you wind up with a savory custard filling. And that, my friends, is a very good thing. If you want the salad portion to be true to the concept of Caesar salad, then you should use romaine lettuce. But, there are so many lovely kinds of mixed salad greens out there to try, I’d say don’t feel limited by fear of scolding looks from Caesar purists. Use what you’d like. Oh, and if you’re squeamish about anchovies (but I really think you should give them a try because you just may stumble upon their inherent awesomeness), you could definitely omit the anchovy from the salad dressing. Rumor has it that the original Caesar salad didn’t have anchovies in it anyway.
And now, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to your – er well, at least my, I guess I can’t speak on your behalf yet – new favorite light summer meal or first course:
Parmesan tart with Caesar salad topping (serves about 3 as a light meal)
- 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 6 Tbs. cold butter, cut into pieces
- 2-3 Tbs. very cold water
- 2/3 cup cream or half and half
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbs. grated fresh parmesan
- ½ tsp. mustard
- a small handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- a sprinkling of salt and fresh ground pepper
- In a small bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter pieces with a pastry cutter, or rub in butter with your fingers until it forms a crumbly mixture (this can also be done in a food processor, if you’re lucky enough to have one!). Add in just enough water so that the mixture comes together and you can form it into a ball.
- Pat the dough into a disk and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of wax paper (my preferred method, though it’s a little wasteful), roll out the dough to fit a 9 inch tart pan, or rectangular tart pan (it can also go into a loaf pan, I discovered).
- Grease your pan and transfer the tart dough into it, trimming the edges. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the pan on a baking sheet, line the dough with tinfoil/parchment paper and weight it with dried beans. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and remove the foil and beans.
- Whisk together the remaining tart ingredients, except the tomatoes, and pour into the shell. Sprinkle the tomatoes on top. Bake until the filling is set, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then carefully remove from pan. Top with Caesar salad.
For Caesar salad topping:
- 1 anchovy fillet, smashed
- 2 Tbs. finely grated fresh Parmesan
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 Tbs. real mayonnaise
- the juice from ½ lemon
- ½ tsp. mustard (preferably Dijon)
- a dash of Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup good olive oil
- 1 small head of romaine lettuce – or several cups of whatever lettuces you prefer – ribs removed, chopped into bite sized pieces
- In a small bowl, mix together the smashed anchovy through the Worcestershire sauce. The pour the olive oil in a stream into the bowl, whisking to incorporate.
- In a salad bowl, toss as much of the dressing as suites your taste with the chopped romaine. Pile the lettuce onto the parmesan tart (not all of the greens may fit), and serve with a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.