- Associated Press - Thursday, September 6, 2012

My 7-year-old son has made me an expert at the Caesar salad. Though to be fair, some credit goes to April Bloomfield, too.

After several years of “green is evil” behavior by my son, I recently — finally — managed to persuade him to try Caesar salad. The child loves savory, umami-rich foods, and I have the receipts from the butcher and cheese shops to prove it. So despite his reluctance to embrace romaine lettuce, I knew an anchovy, egg and Parmesan-rich Caesar dressing could win his heart.

I had tried any number of times, but the sight of the lettuce always sent him running — until a few weeks ago.

On a whim, I opened one of my new favorite cookbooks, “A Girl and Her Pig” by Ms. Bloomfield. If you don’t know her, you should. She is the culinary force behind some of New York’s top spots at the moment, including the Spotted Pig and the John Dory Oyster Bar. Her food smacks of big, bold, slap-you-silly flavor, and her unpretentious cookbook of totally accessible recipes brings this into your home.

All of which is to say that when I saw her recipe for Caesar salad — she insists the dressing is best applied by gently tossing it onto the lettuce with your hands — I knew I had to try it. I fell in love. More important, so did my son. It was no fluke. I’ve since made the salad for him about a dozen times and he still devours his greens with glee.

Trouble is, Caesar salad alone does not make a healthy diet, and certainly not a substantial meal. So I have experimented with how to bulk up this simple, delicious salad.

Chicken was an obvious (if not all that original) choice, and rotisserie chicken is too easy to pass up for a summer salad-as-meal. I could have stopped there, but I wanted to play around with the starch. Honking big croutons traditionally play that role, but I liked the idea of something that is both crunchy and cheesy-soft.

Pan-crisped cheese tortellini was the perfect choice. Most people don’t realize it, but fresh pasta (the variety sold in the refrigerator case) can be cooked without water. Just give a spritz of cooking spray to a nonstick skillet, then add the pasta and saute until lightly browned and crisp.

I stuck with Ms. Bloomfield’s basic Caesar dressing (slightly altered). I have to agree with her — applying the dressing by hand really is best.

No champagne vinegar? I’ve used white balsamic vinegar as a fine substitute. If you have leftover cooked chicken, use that. I found that a 11/2-pound rotisserie chicken worked well.

CHEESE TORTELLINI CAESAR SALAD

Start to finish: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

10-ounce package fresh cheese tortellini

2-ounce tin oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained

3 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup champagne vinegar

1 large egg

1 cup canola or olive oil

Ground black pepper

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely chopped

3 cups cooked and cooled chicken meat, torn into bite-size chunks

3 heads romaine lettuce, roughly chopped

Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Spritz with cooking spray, then add the tortellini. Saute the tortellini for 6 minutes, or until lightly browned and slightly crisped. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, in a blender combine the anchovies, garlic, mustard, vinegar and egg. Puree until smooth. With the blender on low speed, drizzle in the oil. Add the cheese and puree until smooth. Season with pepper, then set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken and romaine. Drizzle about half the dressing over the salad, then use your hands to toss until well-coated. Add the tortellini and drizzle additional dressing, tossing again. You may not need all of the dressing. Serve immediately.

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