Subtlety was not my mother’s forte in the kitchen. But I loved her cooking, nonetheless, when I was growing up, before she got sick and stopped cooking altogether. Here’s one of my favorites, which morphed from Caesar to Seizure, because of the amount of garlic that went into it, a little more each time my mother made it, until too much really was too much.
This recipe’s most important ingredient is a big wooden bowl, so if you don’t own one, buy one. Everyone at the table should eat this salad, as it will be impossible to converse without passing out unless you indulge equally in the immense amount of garlic in this salad. My mother’s recipe un-specifically calls for “tons of garlic,” which I’ve translated.
6-8 garlic cloves ½ cup olive oil
Salt 2 heads hearts of romaine
1 teaspoon Poupon mustard ½ cup croutons
3-4 shakes Worchestershire sauce Freshly shaved Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 liberal shake hot sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
Press with a fork garlic cloves that have been liberally sprinkled with salt into the sides of the wooden bowl. Add mustard, Worchestershire sauce, hot sauce, and lemon. Whisk until well combined. Add olive oil and stir vigorously. Taste for balance. Correct oil to lemon, if necessary. Add hearts of romaine that have been hand-torn into pieces (not cut!). Add croutons and parmesan or Romano cheese. Toss well.
A good twist on this recipe is to make the dressing in a blender or Cuisinart and drizzle oil in at end.
A further twist is to add an anchovy, if desired, into the blender and ALSO 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and only ¼ cup olive oil. This is a version I accidentally discovered and is a delicious and creamy alternative to the traditional Caesar dressing.
Too Much Is Too Much
She cooked by feel
in a language known only to her.
If we loved it,
she added more of it:
garlic, chocolate, alcohol.
Six cloves became “tons,”
a quarter cup turned into
sloppy dollops from the bottle.
Too much was impossible.
We couldn’t hack the salad,
might as well have eaten a garlic bulb whole.
The rum balls would pickle us,
the aglio e olio was as earthy as earth.
Her Bloody spicy Marys made us gag.
We laughed about the lack of specificity,
as she ground salt blizzards
and handfuls of pungent crescents
into the salad bowl’s wooden sides.
We teased the drunken hard sauce,
the cheese-clotted soufflé,
pushing the over-spiced,
around our dinner plates,
granting her expectations
of politeness and praise.
More is a slippery measure
of one at a time, not all at once—
of scant, not heaping,
of suggestion, not rebuke.
Why didn’t I have the heart to tell her?