Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

August 23, 2012

Tortellini as croutons in robust Caesar salad

My 7-year-old son has made me an expert at Caesar salad. Though to be fair, some credit goes to April Bloomfield, too.

After several years of "green is evil" behavior by my son, I recently — finally! — managed to persuade him to try Caesar salad. The kid loves savory, umami-rich foods, and I have the receipts from the butcher and cheese shops to prove it. So despite his reluctance to embrace romaine lettuce, I knew an anchovy, egg and Parmesan-rich Caesar dressing could win his heart.

I had tried any number of times, but the sight of the lettuce always had him running. Until a few weeks ago.

On a whim, I opened one of my new favorite cookbooks, "A Girl and Her Pig" by Bloomfield. If you don't know her, you should. She is the culinary force behind some of New York's top spots at the moment, including The Spotted Pig and The John Dory Oyster Bar. Her food smacks of big, bold, slap-you-silly flavor. And her unpretentious cookbook of totally accessible recipes brings this into your home.

All of which is to say that when I saw her recipe for Caesar salad — she insists the dressing is best applied by gently tossing it onto the lettuce with your hands — I knew I had to try it. I fell in love. More importantly, so did my son. And it was no fluke. I've since made the salad for him about a dozen times and he still devours his greens with glee.

Trouble is, Caesar salad alone does not make a healthy diet, and certainly not a substantial meal. So I have experimented with how to bulk up this simple, delicious salad.

Chicken was an obvious (if not all that original) choice. But rotisserie chicken is simply too easy to pass up for a summer salad-as-meal. I could have stopped there, but I wanted to play around with the starch. Traditionally, honking big croutons play that role. But I liked the idea of something that is both crunchy and cheesy-soft.

Pan-crisped cheese tortellini were the perfect choice. Most people don't realize it, but fresh pasta (the variety sold in the refrigerator case) can be cooked without water. Just give a spritz of cooking spray to a non-stick skillet, then add the pasta and saute until lightly browned and crisp.

I stuck with Bloomfield's basic Caesar dressing (slightly altered). And I have to agree with her — applying the dressing by hand really is best.

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