Mushroom and Celery Heart Salad: Today I thought I’d bring you one of those dishes out of my memory banks. It’s a rustic Italian 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 its charm.
I must have eaten quite a bit of this salad in a past life because it comes together so naturally for me, and it feels as familiar as an old boot. There is 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).
Mushroom and Celery Heart Salad
So when I decided to present this salad to you here I did a quick internet check to see if there was anything similar to my salad 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 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.
Most of the time I make this 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 have made it with plain old white button mushrooms, porcini, as well as shitake mushrooms. There is an “artsy” minimalist leaning version of this salad that I did last year with shitake mushrooms and baby celery shoots. CLICK here to see that version.
Now, while the mushrooms are an important aspect of this simple salad. The real interesting aspect (to me) comes from the celery. Too often celery is overlooked and barely noticed. But have you ever stopped and really considered just how delicious good celery can be? To fully appreciate the celery in this salad, I really suggest you use only the very small stalks from the heart of the celery– as well as lots of the young pale colored leaves left mostly whole.
The celery heart adds a crunchy, herbal dimension to this salad that you may not have known was missing in your life. To make it, you merely need to toss together the celery with shaved Pecorino Romano, thinly sliced mushrooms and a rich and tart mixture of lemon juice and very good olive oil.
This Italian salad may seem plain, but there’s something about the combination of textures with the tart, savory flavors that really works in a surprisingly complicated manner. It’s the crisp against the luscious, and the nutty salty nature of the cheese against the sweet herbal quality from the celery. It’s all at once foreign and familiar. Well familiar, that is– if you knew me in a past life.
- 1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 10 pale inner celery stalks with their leaves from a couple bunches if necessary
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1/2 t lemon zest
- 1/4 very good olive oil
- 1/4 t kosher salt
- pecorino romano, to taste
- coarsely ground black pepper
Put the sliced mushrooms into a large bowl. Pick off all the leaves from the celery and add those to the same bowl. Thinly slice the remaining celery stalks on a diagonal 1/8″ thick. Add them to the bowl and toss to combine.
Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, olive oil and salt until well combined.
Pour the dressing over the celery and mushroom mixture, tossing to coat. Shave large thin sections of cheese on top of the salad with a vegetable peeler. Topping it all with a good helping of coarse black pepper.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD