This salad is what would happen if your favorite, over-dressed Caesar salad from childhood spent a semester studying abroad in Italy and came back all cultured and superior and such. The classic Caesar has leveled up: behold, the Basil Caesar Salad with Polenta Croutons. Delizioso!
If you are hosting a cozy Italian dinner party, or even an Italian-themed Valentine’s dinner, this would be the perfect starter. I think it would pair amazingly well with my Sunday Spaghetti with Mushroom Pecan Meatballs or Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta.
Ceasar dressing gets a sophisticated makeover by (1) removing all those pesky animal ingredients; and (2) the addition of fresh basil for a lovely Italian flair. And the polenta croutons add a buttery, crispy but creamy component that takes this Caesar salad over the top.
What is polenta?
If you’ve never had polenta before, this is a great starter recipe for you to try out. I’m ashamed that, as an Italian, I don’t cook with it more often, but I’m determined to change that. Polenta is made from ground cornmeal, similar to grits from the South in the U.S. It is traditionally cooked slowly on the stove with water, milk, cream and/or butter.
This recipe utilizes cheater, pre-prepared polenta, the kind you can find in a tube (which is vegan!). I found mine at Trader Joe’s, but have also seen it in the Italian section of my local grocery store chain (Publix). It’s super convenient for creating the polenta croutons, as you only have to slice the polenta into squares and pan fry the “croutons” for a few minutes on each side. Then they are ready to become friends with your basil Caesar salad!
I first had polenta croutons on a Caesar salad in a Las Vegas restaurant, and although I may have been swayed by the generous pours of chianti that night, I thought they were about the coolest thing since, well, sliced polenta. They make an awesome salad topper.
I hope you try it out and embrace this fun ingredient! What are some of your favorite uses for polenta? Leave me a comment with some ideas, I’d love to hear from you!
- 3 tablespoons raw cashews
- 2 and ½ the tablespoons fresh chopped basil
- 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ tablespoon tamari (or use soy sauce if not gluten-free)
- ⅓ of a cup of water
- 1 cup roasted salted pecan halves
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tube of prepared polenta, cut into 1 inch squares
- 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cups of romaine
- 2 cups of shredded, destemmed kale
- Prepare the pecan parmesan by placing the pecans, nutritional yeast and olive oil in a high speed blender or food processor. Pulse until the pecans are finely chopped but not entirely pulverized. Add salt as desired. Set aside.
- Prepare the dressing by combining all dressing ingredients in your high speed blender for 1 minute or until there are no more cashew or garlic chunks and everything is nice and smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set dressing aside.
- Coat a large frying pan (I used a cast iron skillet) with the olive oil and place on a burner over medium heat. Add the polenta cubes and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes, until browned on one side. Flip and cook for another 4 minutes or so, or until both sides are golden.
- Transfer the croutons to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Season with a bit of salt (I love Himalayan pink salt).
- In a large bowl, combine the salad greens and dressing. Divide into bowls and top with the pecan parmesan and polenta croutons.