— Jenny Neill

Sweet Saves It: A Celery Salad

After surprising me by surviving the winter, my celery seedlings turned into a prolific miniature stand of stocky plants. Each stem sprouted plentiful fans of leaves, all a deeper green than their grocery store counterparts.

When the temperatures dipped to an unseasonably low point for a few nights, I noticed a few were bolting. Tasting a sample of a few plants confirmed it—the stalks were too astringent. But the leaves still had enough freshness to try using them in a salad. That fine line between clean, watery “green” and “spicy with a bitter tone” proved to be a challenge in creating an appetizing dish.

celery from my garden

Reused with permission. © 2011 Mike Russell. All rights reserved.

I turned to one of my top three kitchen books, The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Checking the celery entry yielded a set of possibilities, including a use for a small hunk of stinky Stilton, a blue cheese, leftover from a wine tasting earlier in the week.

I pinched a small piece of the odiferous cheese off and smeared it on my tongue. Its hallmark tang was drowned out by how salty it had become. If I acted that day, I’d still be able to use it for something other than stinking up the compost bin. The authors’ suggestions for Stilton were a short list so I tried the more general blue cheese page.

Super-salty Stilton, spicy-bitter celery leaves – I knew that to balance these I needed sweetness and a touch of acidity. With two basic elements in mind, I flipped back and forth for more fruit and seasoning ideas. I found the linchpin ingredient for the dressing when I scanned the entry on pear flavor affinities: balsamic vinegar. I decided to chop some dried figs and let them macerate in an aged balsamic vinegar as the basis for the dressing.

I tested what I had thus far and knew it needed a little more sweetness. A drizzle of honey on the blue cheese added just enough to give my salad a perfect balance of bitter, sweet, sour, and salt.

Pear and Celery Salad

With Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette and Honey-drizzled Stilton
Makes 2-4 servings.
2-4 cups celery leaves (garden-fresh, if possible)
1 Bartlett pear
4 dried figs
Balsamic Vinegar (Choose a traditional style for more concentrated sweetness, but not with too much aging so it still adds acidity and doesn’t break the bank.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 garlic cloves
Salt to taste
Stilton Cheese (room temperature)

Dice the dried figs and pour enough balsamic vinegar over to cover them. Let them macerate for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep the remainder of the ingredients:

  • Roughly chop the celery leaves.
  • Cut the pear into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Place into a salad bowl large enough to toss with the dressing.

Prepare the vinaigrette:

  • Mince the garlic cloves.
  • Add the olive oil and balsamic-macerated figs.
  • Stir vigorously with a fork or a whisk.

Compose the salad:

  • Gently toss the celery leaves, pear slices, and fig balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Spoon dressed salad onto plates.
  • Break cheese into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces and garnish each serving.
  • Drizzle honey over the bits of Stilton.