When I discover that my kids like something, I immediately make a mental note. When I am feeling a little uninspired or tired—or both, these are the meals that come together quickly. Although the story of this particular salad comes from an inspired place, I made it this week because on karate nights, I need something easy to put together. And we're still adjusting to a school schedule, which means risk taking in the kitchen is off the table for right now.
Now, onto the story. Something struck me this summer to recreate a dish we used to frequently eat at Whole Foods (formerly Fresh Fields) in Marlton, New Jersey. I remember the weekend my mom and sister and I went there during its grand opening: it was arguably the beginning of my food awakening. There was one salad in particular that they used to make, a grilled chicken Caesar salad with pasta, that we all loved. My mom even recreated it at home, using housemade Caesar dressing that Whole Foods used to (or maybe still does?) sell. Recently, we were at a Whole Foods in North Jersey and I was so tickled to see they still make this particular salad. (I can't remember whether or not there were croutons involved.)
Typically, this salad is made with farfalle, but I selected elbow macs because I knew the boys would want to turn this salad into a wrap. And that, my friends, is going with the flow at its best. If I'd stayed rigid and insisted on serving this without the wrap, adhering bizarrely to some sense of duty regarding how this should be eaten, I would be denying the boys an opportunity to turn this into something fun and different. It's a riff on a memory; it's gonna morph.
In terms of a recipe, this one is as flowy as it comes. It's more about assembly and tasting as you go, rather than strict measurements. I hope that's not too off-putting. You can certainly use bottled dressing, but doing it yourself isn't as hard as you might think. I didn't use anchovies; I didn't have any. (Note to self: buy that awesome anchovy paste you used during recipe testing a couple years ago.)
Chicken Caesar Salad, Hold the Anchovy
Ingredients for the Salad
- 1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped
- 3 cups kale, chopped
- 1 pound organic chicken breast, grilled (I used Penzey's Shallot Pepper on it)
- 1 cup elbow macaroni
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced thin and halved
- 1 whole heirloom tomato (or half a pint of grape tomatoes), cut into chunks
Ingredients for the Dressing
- Approximately 1/4 c. homemade or organic mayo
- 2-3 T. Dijon mustard
- At least 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 garlic cloves (or more), minced finely
- 1 egg
- Salt, pepper and parm cheese to taste (please, the real stuff!)
In a large bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, olive oil and egg. Add the garlic and egg and whisk to combine. If using a raw egg freaks you out, omit it, and add a little more mayo and olive oil and mustard. The dressing should be creamy. Add the cheese and stir together. Add salt and pepper. Taste. And taste again.
Note: You can do all of this while the water boils for the pasta and the chicken is on the grill. (I trust you know how to grill chicken and make pasta.) Or you can prepare the pasta and the chicken ahead of time. Go with the flow of your kitchen.
Take your romaine and kale and add it to the bowl and toss gently with your hands or salad tongs. Add the rest—the pasta, cucumbers and tomatoes and toss again, gently. I like to cut up the chicken, once it's finished on the grill and sat for a few minutes, so that it gets tossed right in there and it's easy to serve my kids, who are impatient and want to get at it right away. Toss again gently and taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Add more cheese; that's almost always a good idea.
I served this on a long platter and it worked out really well. I think this is my new favorite way to serve a dinner salad.