My friend Lesley and I drove up to Narrowsburg, NY, a few weekends ago and had dinner at the culinary draw there, a restaurant called The Heron. We ate rich, decadent, dare I say “Brooklyney” fare that hit the spot on that first bracingly cold night of the season.
The celery salad was the highlight for me. It’s rare to see celery treaded so simply yet elegantly, and as a refreshing winter salad it struck me as just perfect. Rather than burying it in cream and cheese, celery’s texture and flavor are showcased—a perfect balance of crunchy and juicy, sweet and saline. I went home to make it.
With so few (and humble) ingredients, it’s important that they all be good on their own. The celery needs to be very fresh and ultra-crisp; the hazelnuts need to be freshly and carefully toasted; the cheese can’t have soaked up any off-flavors from the fridge. Then you’ll just need to whip out your mandoline and very cautiously put it to work.
This fresh, refreshing little salad is going to be a perfect addition—and antidote—to the rich meals I’ll be eating (and cooking) in the next few weeks. Happy holidays!!
Celery Salad with Pear and Hazelnuts
Serves 4 to 6
¼ cup hazelnuts
1 head celery
1 firm Asian pear
¼ cup pecorino (or Parmesan) shavings
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons runny honey
1 teaspoon Dijon or whole-grain mustard
Good squeeze of lemon juice
Big pinch salt
¼ cup olive oil
1. Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the hazelnuts in a small baking pan and then roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or more if necessary, until golden brown. Cool completely, then rub off the skins using a clean kitchen towel. Just before serving, coarsely crush them with a flat-bottomed glass or other object (you can chop them if you like, but I’ve lately preferred this method—the nuts don’t fly all over the place).
2. Use a mandoline to shave all the firm, thick celery stalks, working very cautiously (reserve the celery heart for another use). Shavings should be just thick enough that each piece can still hold its shape—not paper-thin, but close. You should have about 4 cups total. Set aside a handful of celery leaves plucked from the inner stalks and core, and reserve the rest for another use.
3. Cut the pear into lengthwise quarters and trim out the core. Then shave on the mandolin to about the same thickness as the celery—each piece should just be able to hold its shape without bending too much when you hold it up in the air, but not any thicker than that.
4. Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl or jar and whisk (or shake, with a tightly sealed lid) until emulsified. Taste for balance, adding a bit more lemon if necessary.
5. Combine the celery, pears, hazelnuts, cheese, and a handful of celery leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle with about ¼ cup of the vinaigrette and carefully toss using your hands. Taste, adding more dressing as needed. I think this salad is best plated individually, topped off with a little ground pepper and finishing salt. It needs to be served immediately, before too much water bleeds out of the celery and pools on the plates.