Today I thought I’d bring you one of those dishes out of my memory banks. It’s a rustic Italian Celery Heart Salad of the utmost simplicity. It’s the kind of salad that would be served to you after a large full meal, somewhere in the hot southern boot heel of Italy. It’s crisp and tart. It’s so brightly refreshing that it will make you forget just how much of that rich pasta you actually ate.
It’s not the most refined salad Italy has ever produced, and that is a large part of it’s charm.
I must have eaten quite a bit of this Celery Heart Salad in a past life because it comes together so naturally for me, and it feels as familiar as an old boot. There’s a part of me that swears I invented it, and an even larger part of me that remembers discovering it somewhere charming. Yet I don’t think I have eaten this salad too many times outside of my own home (at least in this life).
So when I decided to present this Celery Heart Salad here I did a quick internet check to see if there was anything similar out there. Well it turns out that almost everyone with the slightest interest in Italian food has a version of this salad. I found recipes from Giada De Laurentiis, Lidia Bastianch– the list goes on. Even the New York Times featured one salad eerily similar to mine. Which tells me I must have been pretty popular in my past life.
It’s funny that I found so many recipes for this Celery Heart Salad however, because it’s the classic no recipe needed sort of salad. That’s because it’s so darn simple. Both in preparation and in the humble nature of the 3 or 4 ingredients that are featured in it.
Val de Mer Crémant de Bourgogne Non-Dosé NV
Pairs well with appetizers, Asian dishes, egg dishes, fish, oysters, sushi.
Most of the time I make this Celery Heart Salad with crimini mushrooms, which is really just another name for young portabello mushrooms (which are often cleverly called baby bellas in the grocery store). But I’ve made it with plain old white button mushrooms, porcini, as well as shitake mushrooms. I even have an “artsy” minamilist leaning version of this salad from a couple years ago that featured baby celery shoots.
The mushrooms are an important part of this simple salad, but the really interesting aspect (to me) comes from the celery. Celery doesn’t get a whole lotta love. Usually it gets pushed around the salad bowl in search of prettier pickins. Celery is the food equivalent of a church lady chaperon at a high school dance. She always seems to be there lurking, but not really invited. To fully appreciate the celery in this salad I suggest you use only the very small stalks from the heart of the celery– as well as lots of the young pale colored leaves.
The celery heart adds a crunchy, herbal dimension to this salad that you may not have known was missing in your life. As I said this salad comes together easily, you merely toss together the celery with shaved Pecorino Romano and thinly sliced mushrooms. It’s finished with a rich and tart mixture of lemon juice and very good olive oil. Which may sound as plain Jane as that chaperon I mentioned, but there’s something surprisingly complex about the combination tart and savory flavors. It’s the crisp against the luscious, and the nutty, salty nature of the cheese against the sweet herbal quality of celery. It’s all at once foreign and familiar. Well familiar, that is– if you knew me in a past life. GREG