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Celery Salad from Emelia-Romagna
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By Charlie Burke

This recipe is our “how did you make this?” salad, because I don’t believe I’ve
ever served it without hearing that question. Guests are dubious of a salad
made entirely of celery, a vegetable usually relegated to a minor supporting
role and overlooked in most recipes.

This recipe hails from a humble pizzeria in the Emelia-Romagna region of Italy.  
We stumbled onto the restaurant by accident when my wife, Joanne, and I had
landed in Milan at the start of a vacation and took the train to Bologna, where
we planned to stay the night, only to find that a convention had booked all
hotels.

We picked up our car rental and drove to Ravenna and arrived jet-lagged and
approaching thirty-six hours without sleep. We checked into a hotel and found
a small pizzeria nearby which served simple pastas.

Neither of us recalls what we had for dinner, but we were served this house
salad with our pasta, and I’ve been making it ever since.

The Emelia-Romagna region of Italy, which includes Parma (where Parmigiano-
Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma are made) and Modena (home of Balsamic
vinegar) takes its food very seriously.

So it was not surprising that this humble pizzeria’s house salad was a perfect
balance of the flavors of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt and
ground pepper, topped with a few curls of perfectly aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Four servings:

3 ½ - 4 cups thinly sliced celery
Approximately 2 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 -2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Cut the ends off several stalks of celery and soak them in lightly salted cold
water for 30 minutes. Drain and dry them thoroughly. Slice them obliquely as
thin as possible.

Immediately before serving, toss the celery with the olive oil and then add the
lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Add sea salt and ground pepper and toss again.
Add more lemon juice or olive oil to taste and then add additional salt or
pepper, if needed.

Serve on individual plates and use a vegetable peeler to drop curls of the
cheese atop each salad.

As in any recipe with few ingredients, this salad requires best quality
ingredients: fresh, crisp celery, excellent olive oil, and aged Parmesan cheese. I
believe the brightness of sea salt makes a difference, as well, and it should not
be added until the celery is coated with olive oil and the salad is ready to be
served to avoid its leaching water from the celery and diluting the dressing.

We serve this salad often, especially in the winter when quality fresh greens are
hard to find and expensive. It is perfect with a light fish dinner, yet is
appreciated after rich pastas or main courses. Joanne and I cooked a lasagna
dinner for one-hundred and fifty friends at our church last week and paired the
pasta with this salad. As usual, we received no questions about how Jo’s deserts
or the lasagna were made, but we are still receiving calls with requests for the
recipe for our little salad!

About the author: Charlie Burke, an organic farmer and avid cook, is the vice president of
the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to
Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Celery Salad, Photo by Charlie Burke
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