Celery is the "undisputed flavor king" in the world of vegetables. So declares Joshua McFadden, chef/owner of Portland restaurants Ava Gene's and Tusk.
Used raw in his recipe for Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Parmigiano, celery's "flavor signature is textural, simple, obvious," he says. The dish "is a play on 'ants on a log,' with peanut butter and raisins, that I was handed as a kid."
His hefty, attractive "Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables," coauthored by Martha Holmberg, is dense with kitchen wisdom and inspiration. The harvest calendar is recalibrated to include early, middle and late summer seasons and each section offers recipes for fresh vegetables at their peak, from raw to cooked, using all the parts "nose-to-tail."
In this easy-to-prepare dish you could sub cucumbers for celery, or toss in a few slices of “amazing, perfect habaneros or jalapeños” to replace the chile flakes, says McFadden. Ava Gene's typically delivers three different salads – at least one green – to the table. His suggested beverage? "I'm obsessed with Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray" celery soda.
Celery-stalking tip: Most grocery-store celery is dry, fibrous and bland, says McFadden. He advises shopping farmers' markets for heavy, bright-green heads with tightly clustered, dense, thick stalks. Vendors at the Saturday PSU Portland Farmers Market predict a midsummer harvest.
The authors will be at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland on June 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Celery Salad With Dates, Almonds and Parmigiano
"This is one of my favorite dishes. It’s so simple, but the combination of ingredients creates a wonderful, intriguing aroma. Try to use really good olive oil for this salad." — Joshua McFadden
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes (excluding almond-toasting and celery-chilling) | Very easy
- 8 celery stalks (leaves separated and reserved), tough fibers peeled off, sliced on an angle into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
- 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted almonds (see below)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved into shards with a vegetable peeler
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Put the celery in a bowl of ice water and soak for about 20 minutes to heighten the crispness. Drain and pat dry, then pile into a medium bowl.
- Add the celery leaves, dates, almonds, lemon juice, and chile flakes and toss together. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the Parmigiano and 1/4 cup olive oil and toss gently. Taste again and adjust the seasoning so you have a lovely salty, tart, sweet balance.
You can toast nuts and seeds a number of ways — in the oven, in a dry skillet, with high heat or low heat (or brined and roasted) — but your goal is to go from raw, bland, and soft to fragrant and crunchy. The color should be just a few shades darker than the raw nut or seed and should be even, not simply dark around the edges.
Quantity is up to you
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread the nuts on a pan in a single layer. For a small quantity, a pie plate is good; for more, use a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake until you smell the nuttiness and the color is deepening slightly, 6 to 8 minutes for most whole nuts.
- When the nuts are done, transfer them to a plate so they don't keep cooking on the hot baking pan.
Determining doneness can be tricky because the final texture won’t develop until they’re cool, so at this stage, you’re mostly concerned with color and flavor. To be safe, take them from the oven, let cool, taste one, and if not done enough, pop them back into the oven.
Excerpted from "Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables” by Joshua McFadden with Martha Holmberg (Artisan Books). Copyright by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg 2017. Photographs copyright by Laura Dart and A.J. Meeker.