A desperate cook on weekends (who is missing a fully functional kitchen) and an Associate Professor the rest of the week, this blog chronicles my weekend culinary adventures in my hometown and the food I feed my family who scratches their heads when I make something unusual.
During my trip to Chicago, I was able to dine at Lou Malnati's, the founder of the deep dish pizza that is a trademark of Chicago. It was a revelation because my first taste of deep dish pizza was from a restaurant along the seedy part of Lakeshore Drive and well, it tasted like dough with red sauce over it. Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza however tasted like freshly made pizza and you can definitely tell and taste the difference. The crust was crunchy and the sauce is peppered with real tomatoes and the toppings were just the right amount. In a word: perfection.
Another dish we feasted on was Lou Malnati's signature salad. This was my request since I was on meat overload which tends to happen when I visit my cousins. In an effort to offset this meat imbalance on my diet, I requested for a salad and this is what we ordered. The salad was again in a word: perfection. The salad had romaine lettuce, sliced button mushroom, black olives, crumbled bacon bits, diced tomatoes and parmesan cheese. What made this salad extraordinary is the dressing. It is a bit on the sweet side but the saltiness of the bacon and the tartness of the the cheese balanced the flavors that made it just irresistible.
In a twist of fate, the minute I arrived from my cousin's house a few days earlier, she showed me a salad tray from their party and she told me it was the best salad she ever had. Since all I saw were layers of vegetables, I was none too impressed. It was only later on that I realized that we were talking about the same salad. It then became a quest by the blogger in me to hunt down the recipe. Luckily enough, it is available on Jake Parrillo's blog which featured the very same dressing that I was looking for.
The recipe was published in a newspaper article in the 60s and although they gave the ingredients for the dressing, the exact proportions were left out so I'm grateful for Jake Parrillo for figuring out a recipe that had exact measurements. I still had to tweak it a bit since I used a different wine but the result was amazing. One thing to note is that the recipe uses Burgundy wine and I used Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot Noir whould have been a better choice but we were unfortunately at Walmart and the salesperson had no clue what I was talking about when I asked her about Burgundy wines and I was under time constraints while figuring out what to get to make the salad so I grabbed my trusted Cabernet Sauvignon. The recipe below makes enough for three giant bowls of salad or just gift the excess in pretty sealed jars to really good friends.
Lou Malnati's Italian Salad Dressing - Adapted*
2 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp coarse salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/4 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients and whisk with a wire whisk or blitz in a blender. The original recipe uses Burgundy wine so you may need to adjust the amount of sugar used if you find a Burgundy wine. The original recipe uses 1 tbsp sugar but I could not get the right flavor of the salad that we had so I added more sugar until it tasted just exactly like the salad I had a few days ago.
The salad itself has the following ingredients:
1-2 Romaine lettuce, diced into 1-inch shreds
1 cup sliced black olives
1 cup Roma tomatoes, deseeded and diced into small pieces
4 cups diced mushrooms, button and Cremini
8 oz bacon, fried to a crisp, cooled, and crumbled
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
The Cremini mushroom is my own addition since button mushroom to me is as generic as eating paper for fiber. To prepare the salad, combine all the ingredients except the last three and dress with about a third of the dressing. Add the bacon, walnuts and cheese and combine just to mix. Serve right away. Parmesan shavings makes a great garnish to the salad.