Hail Caesar

Summer is too hot for making elaborate culinary constructions. In praise of the Caesar salad.

New York, in the summer, she is hot—stupid hot. This is not weather in which I want to be making elaborate culinary constructions. Plus, as the parent of a newborn, I’m tired all the freaking time. I have spent the last weeks trying to work out ways to eat well without roasting myself and, as often happens, I’ve become enamored of a particular ingredient. Summer, thy name is romaine. At least this week.

I’m a big fan of salads of all types, and this summer I’ve been making Caesar salads like they’re going out of style. They’re fabulous when made with care and good ingredients—and the green and red heads of romaine sold by Keith Stewart at Keith’s Organic Farm definitely qualify, crisp and sweet as a new apple. That sweetness plays off the three-way balance struck by the richness of eggs and cheese, the pungency of salt-cured anchovies and raw garlic, and the brightness of lemon. Even the texture is perfect, with the wet crunch of the lettuce mirrored by the dry croutons. I like the technique described by Judy Rogers in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook: whisk together a splash of wine vinegar, the anchovies and garlic (smashed or fine-chopped, as you prefer) and olive oil, add the eggs, a little grated cheese, and a lot of black pepper and whisk again until creamy, then add a hefty dose of lemon juice. I toss that salad in the biggest bowl I have and bring the bowl right to the table. There’s something hedonistic about eating something so delicious without making the house any hotter.

Running a close second, though only because it requires a short turn at the stove, is lettuce and lovage soup. Lovage is a leafy herb that tastes like celery with the volume turned up to 11. It’s easy to grow, so ask your local farmers--someone may well have some, or you can plant some now for next year. The soup is a riff on a basic pureed vegetable soup: sweat a fresh summer onion in a little oil, then add a handful of lovage leaves and a head or two of romaine, both rough chopped, and let them wilt. Cover with a light vegetable or chicken stock and simmer for a few minutes, then puree roughly in a blender. The lettuce should still have a little crunch to it. I like this soup chunky, and it’s even better chilled than hot.

Oh, and those hollow lovage stems? Mix some Bloody Marys and use the stems as straws.

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