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Little Gem Caesar Salad with Calabrian Chili Dressing + Pretzel Croutons

EatrunwaychefSides
Little Gem Caesar Salad with Calabrian Chili Dressing + Pretzel Croutons

I don’t remember when I had my first calabrian chili.

But I do know that it was love at first bite, and I’ve been finding ways to incorporate them into recipes ever since . Pizza, pasta, dressings, eggs…you name it, I’m game to try some calabrian chilis on it {fyi, I get mine at Eataly but you can also find them on Amazon}. While I’ve never been much of a spicy pepper person, there’s something different about these little fire crackers. Don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely spicy, they’ve definitely got a kick, but they’re also a little sweet, and the flavor is one that is smooth, not harsh, like most peppers. In other words, it’s a spice you can actually enjoy versus a spice that burns so badly you can’t taste any flavor at all and you’re really just wondering when the fire department is going to show up to put out whatever peppery fire situation is happening with your tastebuds.

Little gem lettuce, on the other hand, is just as sweet and delicious as can be, and I remember exactly where and when I had it for the first time- Jon & Vinny’s, first time eating there, right after we had moved to LA. Just like the calabrian chilis, the little gem lettuce was love at first bite and I’ve been solidly hooked ever since. When I saw it recently at one of our farmer’s market stands, I didn’t even think twice about buying it. Whatever the price, I knew it was worth it (but it just so happened to be less expensive than the other lettuces, so basically it was like I won the lettuce lottery).

Suffice it to say, you better believe that any recipe involving not only Calabrian chilis BUT ALSO little gem lettuce is going to be bomb.diggity.com. For this little gem caesar salad with calabrian chili dressing, in particular, they both provide a nice lil’ spicy, fresh spin on the classic caesar salad. The sweet little gem lettuce balances nicely with the spicy peppers and creamy dressing. And the buttery pretzel croutons? Well, I threw those in just for fun, because I figured, we’re already giving the caesar salad a makeover so what’s one more switch thrown into the mix? Tbh, pretzel croutons are a seriously solid life decision that you will never regret. And they make this ridiculously delicious salad even more delicious. Trust me, even people who aren’t salad people, will become salad people when they dig into this one.

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Little Gem Caesar Salad with Calabrian Chili Dressing + Pretzel Croutons

serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS

CROUTONS

  • 2 tablespoons of butter

  • 3 cups pretzel bread or rolls, roughly chopped

  • Generous pinch of sea salt flakes

DRESSING

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard

  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestshire sauce

  • 1 teaspoon Calabrian chili oil

SALAD

  • 1 head of little gem lettuce, leaves pulled apart + washed

  • 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese (but feel free to add more cheese, if you prefer)

  • 3-5 calabrian chilis (depending on spice preference), sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet set over a medium heat burner. Once melted, add in the pretzel pieces, sprinkle with salt and stir a few times. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pieces begin to crisp up and turn golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients until smooth and well-combined. Set aside.

  3. To assemble the salad, layer the little gem lettuce leaves in a shallow bowl or a serving dish. Drizzle with the dressing, then top with the pretzel croutons, parmesan cheese and, last but not least, the calabrian chilis. Enjoy!

NOTES

  • This salad pairs particularly well with pizza and pasta dishes, but also works nicely as a side with a bowl of soup, or following a steak or pork chop main course.

  • I found my calabrian chilis at Eataly, but you should be able to find them at any specialty food store, or an Italian market or deli. They’re also available on Amazon.

  • Little gem lettuce can be found at farmer’s markets, speciality stores, and sometimes even Whole Foods, depending on the season. Outside of California, where it seems to be available more regularly, it’s usually only available in spring and summer months. If it’s not available, you can alternatively use romaine lettuce,, chopped up, or butter lettuce.

  • For the pretzel croutons, I used the pretzel roll sticks from Trader Joe’s, but any pretzel bread or rolls should work just as well.

  • For an extra spicy salad, you can add additional chili oil to the dressing as well as additional sliced chilis to the salad itself.