The idea for this salad comes from a horse show. When my daughter was growing up, she competed at horse shows (hunter/jumper/equitation). Horse shows are all-day affairs (and multiple days for the larger shows). So obviously people need something to eat during the day. While the very largest shows attracted multiple outside food vendors, most of the shows had a small snack shop with very limited (and very often uninspired) offerings.
One of the shows we went to, in Tennessee, had some of the better food, much of which was homemade. And one item on the menu was pasta Caesar salad. It consisted of pasta and romaine lettuce mixed with standard bottled Caesar dressing, topped with a few croutons. This became an instant favorite for us. It was such a nice change from the normal horse-show fare–good to have something fresh.
For this pasta Caesar salad, I add chicken to the pasta (farfalla) and romaine to make a main-course salad. It has Parmesan cheese freshly grated over the top. The croutons have to be freshly made, with garlic-infused olive oil, the same as the croutons for my salmon Caesar salad. For the dressing, I make a lemon vinaigrette with olive oil, including Worcestershire sauce, exactly the same ingredients used in the classic Ceasar salad described by Julia Child (except, of course, the egg is not included).
Pasta Caesar salad
1 cup small cubes of Fremch bread (or other similar, firm bread)
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4–6 ounces cooked chicken breast, in bite-sized pieces
1 cup or a little less cooked farfalla (about 2/3 cup or so uncooked)
2 cups romaine lettuce, cut into fairly small pieces
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4–5 drops Worcestershire sauce
fresh ground pepper
Cook the farfalla in advance so it can cool. This would also be a good time to make the croutons.
I have two different approaches for incorporating the garlic with the olive oil for making the croutons. The quick way is to mince the garlic and put it in the pan with the olive oil as you start heating the pan. This works, but leaves small dark bits of garlic at the end. The more time-consuming approach is to put the garlic, minced or pressed, into a small bowl with the olive oil. Mash the garlic in the olive oil with the back of a spoon for at least a minute or so to infuse the olive oil with the garlic. Then strain the olive oil into the pan, leaving the garlic in the bowl.
Heat the olive oil and garlic (however included) in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and start turning them over with a spatula and wooden spoon to get the bread coated with the garlic-infused olive oil. It may seem like the bread is getting a little soggy with the oil, but don’t worry, this is part of getting them set up to brown and turn into the tasty croutons. Keep turning the croutons over frequently. You don’t have to do this continuously, but you need to turn them over a lot because you want the bread to brown on all sides, and this isn’t like when you’re cooking a few flat things and can just turn them over once to cook the other side. After a few minutes, the croutons will start to brown. I’ll be turning them more frequently at this point to be sure the croutons brown on all sides. Stay with them because it now goes very quickly. When they are lightly browned and toasty—a couple of the croutons may even start to look a little darker—remove the pan from the stove and put the croutons into a dish. (They’ll cook more if left in the pan.)
Mix the farfalla, romaine, and chicken in a bowl. Whisk or shake in a jar the oil, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, and fresh ground pepper. Pour over the salad and toss so everything is coated with the vinaigrette. Put the salad on the serving plate. Grate Parmesan cheese over the top and add the croutons.