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That Which Is Caesar’s: Romaine Panzanella Soup

Veni, Vidi, Vichyssoise (I came. I saw. I made a little soup.)

I had salad on the brain this week.

Last Saturday, my wife and I helped put on the second of two Olympian twelve-course dinners our church auctioned off last April.  And by Olympian, I’m talking about the denizens of that mountain in Greece, not that piddly little sporting event held every four years.

The theme of the dinner was Italian food and wine and I say we “helped” because the hosts did the lion’s share of the work.  My wife did the flowers (beautifully) and the dishes among other things.  I made soup and helped with tasks that didn’t need to be done quickly.  Mostly though, I tried to keep my head down.

(And this has something to do with salads, how? I’m getting to that.)

I actually made two soups for the meal.  First came the soup I canned for the gift baskets each guest received.  In keeping with the night’s theme, I jarred a few quarts of my Caprese tomato soup.  The one based on the famous Italian tomato, basil and mozzarella salad I wrote about here last spring.

(For those of you keeping track, that’s salad  number one.)

The second soup I made became the meal’s third course, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.  Our first thought was a roasted asparagus and leek soup I found on the Internet.  This soup looked really good on paper, but when I tried it out, we found that the roasting imparted an unpleasant bitterness to the soup. (As opposed to pleasant bitterness?  Stupid Internet!)  Then, after weighing a few different asparagus soup recipes, I wound up making an extra-strength version of the cream of asparagus soup I wrote about last fall.  I say extra-strength because I fortified the soup with three pounds of asparagus instead of a pound and a half, added an extra pound of onions and used real cream instead of half & half.  All that extra flavor made the soup a lot better than the one I made last year. Thankfully it was good enough to find a slot on the menu.

Immediately preceding the soup course, was a delicious salad the host couple call the Sicilian Blue.  It featured fresh orange slices, strawberries, candied walnuts and crumbled Gorgonzola  atop a bed of greens tossed in a white balsamic dressing.  It was so good I took copious notes so I could steal it recreate this salad it at home.

(That’s salad #2.)

The rest of the meal rose to even greater levels of complexity and greater heights of flavor.  Something I can say without even a hint of pride because I didn’t have much to do with any of it.  The menu proceeded through an English pea and lobster risotto, halibut with vanilla sauce over a parsnip puree, duck breast with mission figs and fresh morels, slices of grilled rib eye steak with arugula, braised lamb shanks atop a fresh fava bean succotash, strawberry mascarpone shortcake with basil syrup and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and individual chocolate hazelnut cakes with whipped cream.

(All right, I did make the risotto, but that just involved stirring in ladles full of stock until the head chef (Call me “Sous.”) said it was done.  At that point, Chef Kirk adjusted the seasoning, folded in the seafood and the vegetable garnishes and essentially made the whole thing go from palatable to delicious.)

Kudos to the hosts for all their work and the night’s overall success.

The next day, after all that prep, all that execution, not to mention the brief interlude that was income tax preparation, I was too tired to do much of anything, much less come up with a new soup.

So I took the easy way out and turned another one of my favorite salads, the Caesar, into a soup.  I know that sounds pretty weird.  In fact, if you’re like my wife, you’re probably cringing at the thought of a lettuce soup flavored with garlic-parmesan dressing.  Nor does the name Caesar Salad Soup sound particularly appetizing.  That’s why I re-christened it Romaine Panzanella after the Italian bread salad.

(Salad #3.)

So how did it turn out?

Interestingly enough, despite all the simmering, the chopped romaine still retained some of its crispness and the toasted croutons added an extra crunch to each bite.  As for the taste, it was, in my wife’s words “strangely good.”

Sounds like a compliment to me.

Romaine Panzanella Soup
(serves 6-8)
3 hearts of romaine lettuce, cored and chopped into 1” pieces
6 cups vegetable stock
Caesar Salad Dressing
¼ cup red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
¾ canola oil
¼ cup parmesan cheese
Croutons
½ loaf day old French bread, cut into 1” cubes (about 1 quart in volume)
olive oil
salt
black pepper
basil
garlic powder

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut the bread into chunks, 1” cubes or smaller, brush them with olive oil and toss them with a mixture of salt, pepper, dried basil and garlic powder.
  3. Arrange the cubes of bread on a sheet pan and place in the oven until lightly browned (5-7 minutes) then turn the croutons over and bake until the other side is lightly browned.
  4. Remove croutons and set aside.
  5. Core the three heads of romaine, slice the lettuce into 1” pieces and place  them in the stock.
  6. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  7. In the meantime, place the vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt & pepper in a mixing bowl.  Then whisk the ingredients in the bowl as you slowly drizzle the oil into the mixture to emulsify the dressing.  When all the oil has been added, whip in the parmesan cheese.

Note:  Alternatively, you can blend the salad together with an immersion blender, the eliminates the need to mince the garlic and does a nice job bringing the dressing together.

  1. Puree the lettuce and stock together with an immersion blender, then stir the dressing into the mix until it is well blended.
  1. At service time, garnish each bowl of soup with several croutons, it adds an excellent texture to the soup.  A good pairing with almost any sandwich.

Image Credit: “Veni, Vidi, Vichyssoise,” more clipart shenanigans by the author. 

As much of the Christian population celebrates holy week this time of year, it seemed like a good time to render something out of Caesar.  I’m also left wondering if there’s any linkage between Easter and tax season.  Nevertheless, soup, and this soup in particular, remains affordable even for those of us who got gouged by Uncle Sam this year.  Bon Appétit and many happy returns!

1 Comment to “That Which Is Caesar’s: Romaine Panzanella Soup”

  1. […] the last multicourse meal we put on (back in April, see my Asparagus soup recipe, take two, (it’s buried in the Caesar Salad Soup recipe), my friend the executive chef (you can call me […]

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