• Attempting The Zuni Caesar Salad

    Zuni Caesar Salad.

    Zuni Caesar Salad.

    There are few more iconic dishes in the San Francisco Bay Area than the Zuni Caesar Salad. The Caesar Salad may come in and out of style, and heaven knows there are some truly criminal insipid versions out there, but here in Norcal it is still a dish that puts butts in seats at the best restaurants (and the best homes….or farms). And while there may be better versions out there to discover, we make an (almost) annual pilgrimage to Judy Rodger’s Zuni Cafe to get our Caesar Salad….and it is still amazing.

    zuni2zuni3zuni4And a good Caesar Salad is a true masterpiece. Crunch from the romaine and croutons, a rich but acidic dressing and a big dose of umami from anchovy and parmesan combine into true alchemy, a dish that is more than the sum of its parts. But oddly enough, we don’t make many Caesars here at the farm. We weren’t sure why, but we decided to remedy the situation and try to make Caesars at home. And since the Zuni Cafe Cookbook is one of our favorites, we just had to open it up and give the “best” Caesar recipe a try. Easy enough.

    zuni5zuni6zuni7Except that it isn’t really easy at all. The recipe itself is very simple. Judy Rodgers has no tricks that a good home cook wouldn’t know or couldn’t follow. She just gives you solid technique and a list of common ingredients (and the Caesar is made from readily available ingredients). But that is what makes it hard. There is no place to hide. Like many classic dishes (think Caprese Salad) there is no way to mask inferior ingredients or shoddy work. You need to find the best ingredients and then do everything to make them shine. No shortcuts, no appliances, no pre-made, no pre-grated, to pre-peeled, no pre-washed and no making things ahead of time. Just manual labor at the time of service. This salad is real work. But good work.

    zuni10zuni8zuni9So is it worth it? Hell yes. Was ours as good as Zuni’s? Hell no…but damn good, nonetheless. And better than almost any other restaurant version we’ve had. We will make this at home much more often, even with the extra effort. But here are our key takeaways: homemade croutons from good artisan bread are a must (we knew this, but for a Caesar even more important), you need fresh garlic with no bitter green shoots, be very picky with the romaine and take only the best pieces, wash the romaine and then totally dry the leaves (bone dry, seriously, take the extra two minutes and dry those greens), and be very generous with the parmesan….that may be real key.

    zuni11zuni12zuni13And the parmesan really is the key (IMHO). You need good anchovies (salted are better but quality, well-drained oil-packed anchovies will work). You can’t do without good olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice or fresh eggs for the dressing. But in the end, this recipe is a crunchy parmesan delivery service. You must use the real thing, and three ounces of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is a lot, but the genius of the recipe is that even when a bunch of the parm sticks to the bowl (and it will) there is enough to coat almost every leaf and crouton. So you get alternating bites of bread with parmesan and then romaine with parmesan, or a combination. Think about that….yes, think about that. Uh-huh, we thought so…hard to do better. Continue reading

  • Green Olive-Lemon Relish (With Sous-Vide Halibut)

    Green Olive-Lemon Relish With Sous-Vide Halibut.

    Please pardon the somewhat strange title. Usually we would lead with the fish, but this dish really is all about the relish.

    We are big fans of salsa verde here at the farm, it works on veggies, chicken and fish- particularly during the summer. But we are always looking to branch out and discover new flavors, and we happened to find this recipe for green olive-lemon relish from Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. And Judy Rodgers notes that this relish works on fish, chicken, pork and grilled vegetables and is easy to make. So we gave it a try.

    Few ingredients, but lots of flavor.

    And we are glad we did. This relish is a simple mix of firm green olives (Lucques or Ceregnola are good), diced lemon, chopped almonds, a touch of capers, lemon juice and olive oil. The flavor profile is very similar to salsa verde but the olives, almonds and lemon pieces give the relish more body and heft. The relish has a nice balance of sour and briny notes from the olives, lemon and capers, while the almond and olive oil add nutty and sweet notes.

    We served the relish with sous-vide halibut at 122 degrees using our basic method for sous-vide fish (here is a link to a good oven-based method) and it was a lovely summer meal. This relish would work very well with any firm white fish- so we suggest you use whatever cooking method you like and then simply add the relish. And if you grill eggplant, squash or zucchini, this relish will be a great partner.

    Pit and chop the olives. Add chopped lemon, almonds and capers.

    Combine with olive oil and lemon juice.

    The relish goes with fish, chicken, pork or grilled vegetables. We made sous-vide halibut.

    Making the relish couldn’t be easier. Skin, roast and chop some almonds (or use store-bought roasted almonds, unsalted Marconas would be very good), dice 1/4 of a lemon, pit and chop the olives, add some capers and a bit of extra lemon juice and then add the olive oil. A neat trick here is that you can add varying amounts of olive oil and still have a good relish. If you want the relish chunky, add less oil, if you want to use it more like a sauce (good with fish) add a little more oil. Both versions taste great. So if you like salsa verde in your summer meals, give this relish a try, it will be a very tasty change of pace (you might even like it better than salsa verde).

    Green Olive-Lemon Relish:

    (Adapted from Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Rodgers suggests a few types of olives for the relish including Lucques, Ceregnola, Ascolane and Picholine. But she notes that if the Picholines (or any of the olives) seem extremely briny to blanche them for 2 minutes to soften their flavor.
    • If you want to skin and roast your almonds, simply blanche raw almonds in boiling water for 10-15 seconds, then cool and skin (the skin will come off easily). Then roast the almonds in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until they color slightly. Make extra- freshly roasted almonds are very tasty on their own.

    What You Get: A bright, tasty relish for fish, chicken, pork or vegetables.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 5-10 minutes of chopping. And extra 15 minutes if roasting your own almonds. Anytime dish.


    (Makes about 1 – 1 and 1/2 cups)

    • 12 roasted, skinned almonds (see above if you want to DIY)
    • 1 cup good green olives like Lucques, Ceregnola, Ascolane or Picholine
    • 1/4 of a lemon
    • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
    • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of good olive oil
    • Salt and pepper

    Continue reading