When it comes to salad, iceberg and romaine have their place -- even the most delicate palates can't seem to resist a good steakhouse wedge with blue cheese dressing. Often, though, it's worth taking a second look at the more prosaic produce and giving them some rhyme and reason.
Take two of my favorite leaves -- those of celery and parsley -- which are full and bright with intense flavor. Our local farmers markets are currently abundant with both, especially whole bunches of celery with their wide, weepy tips still attached.
The throwaway celery tops are delicious (like their throwaway cousin, the carrot top) blitzed with nuts and cheese for a take on traditional pesto. Paired with parsley leaf, the tips replace the more ubiquitous lettuce in this crisp fall salad I've been making every chance I get. Tear the leaves and try to keep at least half of them intact for a prettier presentation.
What lifts this from the mundane is the addition of quickly sautéed dates -- the meaty, sticky, Medjool variety -- as well as a scattering of marcona almonds. Marconas, from Spain, are the rounder, softer, voluptuous cousin of the California variety (and now widely available at Costco, Safeway and Fred Meyer stores). Of course, you could toss in pine nuts or walnuts, but the addition of sea salt and olive oil to these plump marconas along with the dates adds an extra lustiness. Served as is or topped off with shavings of a tangy blue cheese; you might find yourself including this pretty but punchy salad to elevate your everyday repertoire.
Kim Sunée is the best-selling author of "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home." She ate and lived in Europe for 10 years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Sunée has appeared several times as a guest judge on Food Network's "Iron Chef America." She lives in Anchorage, and her latest cookbook is "A Mouthful of Stars." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com or instagram.com/kimsunee.
Celery and parsley leaf salad with sautéed dates
2 cups packed celery leaves, plus some stalk (about 1 full bunch)
1 cup packed parsley leaves (about 1 full bunch)
8 to 10 Medjool dates, pitted and sliced in quarters
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup toasted marcona almonds (or walnuts or pine nuts)
Shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 to 3 ounces blue cheese such as Stilton, St. Agur or gorgonzola (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1.Tear leaves (keeping some intact for presentation) and chop some of the celery stalk and place in a large serving bowl or shallow platter; set aside.
2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add almonds and toast until golden. Add almonds to leaves. Add olive oil to pan and sauté date slices 1 to 2 minutes, turning occasionally. Sprinkle with some good sea salt. Add to leaves and almonds. Toss with shallot vinaigrette. Taste salad and adjust seasoning, as needed, adding more lemon or salt or olive oil. Top with pieces or shavings of cheese and some fresh ground black pepper. Serve at once. If making ahead, toss with dressing just before serving.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and salt together in a small bowl; slowly whisk in olive oil until well combined.