Originally published May 10, 2013
by Nancy Leson
MY MOTHER LIKES my sister more than she likes me. Which explains why, when our grandmother passed away, Sherry got Bubbie’s wooden chopping bowl — and I got bubkes.
My sister rarely uses that scarred maple bowl for cooking. (I would.) She displays it in her kitchen, along with the red-handled chopper that came with it. The chopper hangs nearby on a hook, next to a bottle opener that belonged to our grandfather.
Whenever I visit — never often enough — I look at the bowl with envy.
My Aunt Joan, who’s a popular cook among her widowed lady-friends, remembers the bowl well. “When I was a little girl,” she told me on the phone from Florida, “I used to help cook. I’d make chopped liver in it, because we didn’t have — what do you call it?” A food processor. “And egg salad, and tuna fish. We’d also use it to make eggplant relish. I’d put the cooked eggplant in there, without the skin, and chop it up. You know from eggplant relish?”
I do. What I don’t know is where the bowl came from. Neither does my aunt. Was it my great-grandmother’s? A wedding gift? Did my grandfather buy it at the five-and-dime?
But I do know this much: When I join my grandmother in the big kitchen in the sky, my favorite wooden bowl — a handsome maple number big enough to toss a Caesar salad for six — will go to my son, who has no siblings to call dibs on it.
I would want him to know that his heirloom bowl was a parting gift from my friends and co-workers at the Marx Bros. Café in Anchorage, where, for seven years, I made Caesar salads tableside in a bowl just like it, in a room with a view of the Northern Lights in winter and Mount McKinley in the never-ending days of summer.
It was a time imbued with the scent of garlic and anchovies, mashed in a bowl as I made new friends of my customers, or shared an after-dinner salad with my old ones. A place where we laughed each time a patron walked in, saw our Caesar salad cart in the cramped foyer, grabbed a garlic clove from its little bowlful and ate it raw — mistaking it for a mint.
The Marx Bros., still one of the top dining destinations in Alaska, was where I first tasted extra-virgin olive oil, imported from California (and sold to employees for $5 an empty wine-bottle full). Every time I use my Marx Bros. bowl, I think of that time in my 20s, when I worked hard, played hard and learned much about great food and wine. And of the spirit of friendship and generosity — something I found in great abundance in Alaska — in which I offer you our Caesar recipe.
Marx Bros. Caesar Salad
3 cloves garlic
3 anchovy fillets
1 coddled egg (see note)
½ lemon, seeds removed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh Parmesan, grated (plus more for garnish)
1 large head romaine, washed, torn and spun dry
½ cup croutons
1. With a sturdy fork, mash the garlic in a wooden bowl. Add anchovies, and continue to mash until it forms a paste.
2. Add the coddled egg and stir, incorporating the paste, then squeeze the lemon juice into the egg mixture and stir until the dressing brightens.
3. Add olive oil, vinegar and Parmesan, stirring between additions.
4. Add romaine and croutons, and toss. Serve on chilled plates, garnished with extra Parmesan.
Note: To coddle the egg, place it in a bowl with boiled water to cover just before you start making the dressing.