Daughter Sara and I, traveling in southern Spain together twenty years ago, fell in love with a salad called cogollos which we had for the first time in a tapas bar in Cordoba, at the top of a long, narrow street leading up from the mezquita. Ever since we’ve thought of it as a specialty of that lovely old town and searched in vain for cogollos elsewhere.
Cogollos is (or are) totally simple and totally delicious but, like most simple, delicious things, devlishly hard to reproduce without the right ingredients. On a recent trip back to Cordoba, working on a film about Andalucian gastronomy for the Culinary Institute of America, I found cogollos on the menu again, this time at the enchantingly old-fashioned bar at historic Bodegas Campos restaurant. If I tell you what cogollos consists of, you might not believe me, but here goes: very young, very crisp romaine lettuce–not the heart, but whole head just so long as it’s tender and crisp at the same time, green and white leaves together–cut into quarters. Arrange the quarters on a plate and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Then take about a third of a cup of the finest extra-virgin olive oil and heat it in a saucepan. When the oil is hot, throw in a couple of cloves of coarsely chopped garlic and let it toast brown, then instantly remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot garlicky oil over the lettuce quarters. Add a spoonful of vinegar—“but the secret,” the chef at Bodegas Campos admitted, “the secret is vinagre de Jerez, aged sherry wine vinegar.”
At Bodegas Campos they nestled a little chopped fresh tomato and some chopped anchovies in the center of the plate. I liked the saltiness the anchovies added but could do without the tomato which seems an unnecessary adornment. Just make sure the olive oil is the best you can get, preferably from Andalucia where some surprisingly fine oils are being produced these days. And don’t forget the aged sherry vinegar from Jerez.