Market Matters- Baby, Oh Baby Celery Salad

baby celery salad with lemon and shitake mushroomsThere is something so exuberant and hopeful about spring vegetables. Especially when they are harvested newly formed and still immature. You know, baby vegetables!

After all what is a more hopeful symbol than the confidence of an early harvest?

Baby vegetables have a remarkable taste as well. They are often an intensely flavored version of their mature selves. Pared down to its simplest essence. There is nothing so carroty as a baby carrot. The same is true, maybe more so, with baby celery.

There is something about baby celery that just screams spring to me. So I have chosen it for this week’s Market Matters at the Hollywood Farmers Market.

Baby celery is basically the seedling of the same variety of celery you and I buy at the grocery store. It is typically hydroponically grown. The seedlings are tightly packed and sprouted in water, giving them the impression of a bunch of parsley.

hydroponic baby celery greensWhich is apropos because baby celery makes a great garnish just like parsley. You can substitute it just about anywhere you would use good parsley. The brightening effect it brings to a dish is exactly the same. Which is not to say they taste the same, but you know what I mean.

Everything you love about celery is amplified in baby celery. Even the mildly acid quality that gives it that special tart, tangy, flavor is elevated.  Which makes baby celery very useful in a mirepoix.

How many times have you heard someone say that celery “doesn’t really taste like anything at all” in fact it is most often compared with water.

Well I am here to tell you that is an insult to celery. While it is true that celery has a flat, watery aftertaste. To me, very good celery has a flavor very similar to sweet pepper, but sharper and crisper.

As I said, baby celery has all these qualities and then some.  Which is why I am elevating it today by using it as the key ingredient in a simple salad. I have made other simple salads for SippitySup like this pea tendril salad.

But this baby celery salad holds a special place in my tummy.

I have been making this salad or some version similar to this for years. I usually use “regular old” celery. Which makes this a terrific winter salad when you just can’t get your hands on any decent lettuce.

But this is spring and I am altering my recipe (yet again) to accommodate, indeed feature, some beautiful baby celery.

My original inspiration for this recipe was Lidia Bastianich. She published something similar in Gourmet Magazine a few years back in a menu honoring the tastes of her native Istria region of Italy.

The recipe was so easy I never even wrote it down. It is an ingeniously simple bit of ingredient pairing that immediately spoke to me. I did not even have to taste it to know that I would adore this salad the rest of my life. So far that revelation is holding true!

I usually serve this salad after the main courses of the meal. This is partially a nod to its Italian roots, but more importantly I do this because the salad is so refreshing that it actually acts as a lovely palate cleanser and a tart precursor to a rich dessert.

“Alright already”, I can hear you saying it, “what’s in this salad Greg?”

Well I am going to get to that, but let me get to it in my own way!  Besides I already told you there was baby celery in this salad. You don’t really need to know a lot more.

Which speaks directly to my last point. As I said, this salad made such easy sense to me that I never wrote it down. I don’t want to insult Lidia by tagging her with this salad if it’s nothing like her version. It’s one of those recipes that changes and morphs every time I make it depending on my pantry and my mood! But I have a feeling that Lidia is just the type of chef to understand and forgive.

fresh baby celery and shitake mushroom with parmesanBaby Celery and Shitake Mushroom Salad with Lemon and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Serves 4

1 bunch of baby celery, roots removed with stems left in tact
1/2 lb baby shitake mushrooms, cleaned and halved (or left whole depending on size).
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
6 tablespoons very good olive oil
lemon wedges & a few minced mild flavored herbs as garnish (optional)

1. Divide the baby celery into 4 equal portions and lay them across individual salad plates.
2. Add the lemon juice and olive oil with a pinch of salt into a small bow. It is important to use the very best olive oil as every ingredient is key and cannot hide in this simple salad. Whisk the dressing together until well combined.
3. Toss a few mushrooms onto each plate and drizzle everything with the lemon dressing.
4. Serve with plenty of shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon wedges and a very light sprinkling of mild herbs (optional)

NOTE: The celery and mushrooms can be cleaned and prepped the day before. Store them seperately in barely dampened paper towels and sealed into a plastic bag.


Greg Henry