Italian mushroom and celery salad
June 21, 2012 § 23 Comments
First, the bad. My hometown was ravaged by horrible flooding in the last two days. Just torn apart. A torrent of rain developed overhead and wouldn’t budge until it had dumped 7 inches, 9 inches, 10 inches of water in some places. The wall of water rushed down the hill toward the lake taking out huge chunks of roads and sidewalks, dumpsters and bridges with it.
Perhaps you even saw it on the news yesterday. I know the story about the seal that was swept out of the zoo by a river of water and was found stranded on the highway received a lot of attention. Many of the other zoo animals – the little barnyard animals in the petting zoo – drowned. I spent half the day in unremitting tears about this. Unfair is not nearly a strong enough word.
It’s horrifying to be reminded how powerless we are. It’s also probably really important to be reminded. These extremes may be the new normal, and it’s time to be truthful about the fact that we are not remotely in control. And perhaps the best we can do sometimes is bond together, lend a never ending supply of helping hands, and cope.
All my family and friends there are fine, though. Thank heaven for that.
It’s awkward to feel far away and disconnected from it. Though, I would probably feel awkward were I there as well. Because in these situations, though things may be far from normal, many elements of normalcy insist on persisting. The sun rises and sets, and you have to tend to the day.
My mother reminded me yesterday that often the best thing you can do when you feel completely powerless is to keep working on the little things where you can make a difference. So, I returned to my research (which hopefully someday will help someone!) and to helping my brother edit an application essay. I walked the puppy. I smiled and talked with the neighborhood children out playing in their sprinklers. I prepared healthy meals for us to eat.
Which brings me to the good, as small as it may seem in comparison. It’s another salad, and this time it’s a light and refreshing one. It’s gotten so hot here that this is about all it takes to sate your appetite. And, I’m so smitten with this particular one, I’ve been making a half recipe and eating it on its own as my lunch for several days running. It’s a tune so catchy, I just put it on repeat and sit back to listen contentedly.
Celery keeps surprising me. Most of the time it doesn’t even make a blip on my radar screen when I’m thinking about vegetables. Since I can’t eat peanut butter, in my mind celery gets shuttled into either the category of ‘component of mirepoix’ or else ‘food for cranky models and chain smoking ballerinas.’
But, celery actually has a lovely and unique flavor of its own, in addition to its addictive juicy crunch (with the annoying strings here and there to keep things real). It is lightly saline, herbal, and citric. And it has a nice amount of steminess – it’s a stem, after all – just ever so slightly reminiscent of a very minerally white wine.
Every now and again something comes along, something enticing, maybe zingy, to remind me that celery deserves to be remembered as a vegetable, and used as such. This salad reminded me like a big sticky note on the bathroom mirror scrawled with the message. Celery is a vegetable! It said. An awesome one!
I saw this salad on Food52 even before it was selected as a finalist for one of their contests, and the moment I noticed it, in spite of all of its unusualness, I somehow knew it was special. I knew I would adore it.
I almost always adore things that have sauteed mushrooms in them. But, combined with the delicate, feathery crunch of the thinly sliced celery, the loamy meatiness of the mushrooms somehow become something even more. Meanwhile, the brilliant lemon juice and the thin shards of Parmesan threaded throughout the salad create a palate defying unity between the extremely disparate textures and flavors of the mushrooms and celery.
I suppose some may still think they don’t work well together. To them I say, you are entitled to your opinion, but I respectfully and vehemently disagree (vehemently, I tell you!). These two are that unlikely match made in heaven, the stars of every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen. Except, more graceful and elegant than most rom-coms. It’s purportedly an Italian-style salad; clearly it is going to be elegant.
It is a satisfyingly simple and elegant process to assemble it as well. The mushrooms sautee quickly in olive oil and get set aside to cool. Then all it takes is swift slicing of the celery, grating of the cheese, a squeeze of lemon juice and a smattering of parsley leaves to pull it all together. It is perfect for these hot summer days. Perfect for leaving time for chatting with the neighbor children, maybe running through the sprinkler with them, checking in with friends, being grateful for the little things you do have and the tiny ways you can make a difference.
Italian Mushroom and Celery Salad (serves about 4) barely adapted from Food52
- 6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
- 1 pound mushrooms, any variety, wiped clean as sliced as thin as possible
- juice of one lemon
- 8 ribs celery, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup, loosely packed, finely shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- a scant 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
- In a very large saute pan, heat 3 Tbs. of olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a bit of salt, then saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices, the juices have evaporated, and the mushrooms are tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl to cool.
- Whisk together the lemon juice and remaining olive oil with a pinch each of salt and black pepper. In a large bowl, toss the mushrooms, celery, cheese, parsley, and dressing together. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.