Caesar Salad with Spicy Pancetta and Cornbread Croutons

This recipe marks the first time I remember making something and feeling the essence of timing in cooking: the buttered dish, the preheated oven and the melted butter cooling slightly while I gathered and blended all the other ingredients. SO satisfying.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 30 min (includes cooling time)
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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Ingredients

Cornbread:

1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup sugar 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

1 cup buttermilk 

1/3 cup whole milk 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten 

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing the pan 

Dressing:

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 large cloves garlic, grated 

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper 

1/2 cup lemon juice 

1 tablespoon caper juice 

2/3 cup olive oil 

1/3 cup canola oil 

3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, plus 1/2 teaspoon anchovy oil, optional 

Parmesan, for grating 

Salad:

3 heads romaine, outer leaves discarded, washed, dried and cut into 1-inch pieces

16 to 20 thin slices pancetta, cooked crispy like bacon 

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

  1. For the cornbread: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk in the buttermilk, milk and eggs. Whisk in the melted butter.
  3. Coat the sides and bottom of a 9-inch skillet with the remaining butter. Pour the batter into the skillet and bake until the center is firm and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool. Cut half of the cornbread into cubes. (Devour the other half with butter and jam.)
  4. For the dressing: Combine the mustard, garlic, a pinch salt and about 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper in a food processor. Pulse to blend. With the machine running, pour the lemon juice and caper juice into the mix. Slowly pour in the olive oil and then the canola oil. Transfer the dressing to a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Too lemony? Add more oil. Too oily, add more lemon. Stir in the anchovies, anchovy oil and a few tablespoons grated Parmesan. Refrigerate. (See Cook's Note.)
  5. For the salad: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. Spread the cornbread cubes on a baking sheet and bake until browned and toasty, 10 to 12 minutes.
  7. Add about three quarters of the dressing to a large bowl and toss the romaine with the dressing. Grate some Parmesan over the leaves. Use a tea strainer or sifter to sprinkle the pancetta with an even, light layer of the cayenne. Top with salad with the pancetta and warm cornbread croutons and serve immediately.

Cook’s Note

As far as the dressing goes, I?m a fan of the classic but I don't add the egg yolk here. The flavor of the anchovy, even if you just use a little oil that the anchovies are packed in, becomes more important if you omit the egg. I make the dressing in advance and keep it in the door of the fridge but then I mix it with the lettuce at the very last second. If your dressing doesn't come together, whisking in a splash of warm water can often help!