A Delicious New Twist on Caesar Salad

Last month, my friend and talented cook, Mary Francis, wrote me about an unusual Caesar salad she had tasted in North Carolina where she lives. It was prepared with a serving of warm Parmesan bread pudding surrounded by Romaine leaves and a spoonful or two of roasted tomatoes or red peppers. She wasn’t sure whether the red condiment was tomatoes or peppers, but she couldn’t stop raving about the creamy smoothness of the warm pudding contrasted with the crunchy lettuce. The minute I read her note, I knew that I wanted to try to recreate this clever dish, but I had no free time in May.

Fast forward a month to Paris where I’ve been in June. For the past two weeks I’ve made several versions, all to the delight of my husband, who adores any rendition of this celebrated salad.

For my recreation, I prepared a custard of eggs, crème fraiche, half and half (unknown here in France so I used equal amounts of milk and cream), plus grated Parmigaino Reggiano, and ladled it into a baking dish spread with homemade croutons made from a fresh baguette. For serving, the pudding was cut and served warm surrounded by Romaine leaves tossed in a lemon/garlic vinaigrette. Roasted cherry tomatoes in varying hues added color and some kalamata olives a hint of salt to replace the usual anchovies.

We ate the salad as a main course for both lunch and supper, but it could definitely be a special starter. Try it on over the July 4th holidays followed by grilled steaks, chicken, or burgers. This variation of the beloved classic is definitely worth trying!


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Caesar Salad with Parmesan Bread Pudding, Cherry Tomatoes, and Olives

Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
Scant 3/4 tsp kosher salt
Sseveral grinds of black pepper
6 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp minced garlic

Parmesan Bread Pudding
Butter for greasing the baking dish
2 cups toasted croutons (Recipe follows.)
4 large eggs
1 cup crème fraîche
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk (See cooking tip.)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra for sprinkling over salad
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 generous pinches cayenne pepper
1 tsp very finely minced garlic

Salad and Garnishes
2 cups cherry tomatoes, a mix of red, yellow, and orange ones if available
Olive oil
Kosher salt
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted or unpitted
2 hearts Romaine, separated into individual leaves
1 tbsp chopped chives, optional
1. For the vinaigrette, in a large mixing bowl whisk together lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Stir in garlic. Taste and add extra lemon juice if desired. (Vinaigrette can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes and whisk well before using.)

2. For Parmesan bread pudding, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Butter an 8-by 8-inch baking dish (pyrex works well) and spread toasted croutons on the bottom. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk eggs until well blended, then whisk in crème fraîche, half-and-half or milk, cheese, salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic. Ladle over croutons.

4. Bake until bread pudding is set and a small, sharp knife or tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove bread pudding from the oven to cool for 15 minutes Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees F. (Bread pudding can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and reheat, uncovered, in a preheated 350- degree oven for 15 minutes or until hot.)

5. Place cherry tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with enough olive oil to coat lightly, and season with salt. Bake until tomatoes are hot and just starting to shrink, 10 to 12 minutes.

6. To assemble salad, cut the bread pudding into 6 equal portions and arrange on six dinner plates. Choose 18 of the nicest romaine leaves and toss in the lemon vinaigrette just to coat lightly. Garnish each bread pudding with 3 overlapping romaine leaves and with a cluster of cherry tomatoes and a few olives. Sprinkle extra Parmesan over the puddings and Romaine leaves. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette over the tomatoes. If desired sprinkle puddings with some chives. Serves 6.

Toasted Croutons
2 cups bread cubes (3/4-in dice), made from good-quality French baguette or crusty country loaf
2 tbsp canola oil or olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter

In a medium heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter until hot. Add bread cubes; stir and cook until the bread is crisp and golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Croutons can be prepared 4 hours ahead; cover loosely with foil and leave at room temperature.) Makes about 2 cups

Cooing tip: I like to use half and half in this recipe since it adds extra richness, but whole milk works well too.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2019

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