What are the chances someone — perhaps you? — who loves to dine out but does not necessarily love to hang out in the kitchen, could make the most nuanced, lip-smacking salad at Tom Sietsema’s No. 1 Spring Dining Guide pick? Keep reading, and the odds are in your favor.
It features peak-season strawberries, a quick-pickled vegetable, toasted hazelnuts, lots of black pepper and a syrupy sauce of vinegar and sugar, and I am only a little obsessed with it. Believe it or not, executive chef Brad Deboy came up with the combo because he wanted to highlight . . . celery. Lightly pickled, it happens to be a great match for the fruit and nuts. None of this takes much effort, and you might just eat it all yourself instead of sharing.
This dish will be on the menu at the Mount Pleasant restaurant for at least a few more weeks. File the recipe under “peak strawberry season” so you can make it when the time is right.
You will have that sauce, called a gastrique, left over, which can be refrigerated for up to several weeks. (You have made a gastrique! Be impressed.) Bring to room temperature before serving; spoon it over fruit salad and/or yogurt. You can strain, refrigerate and re-use the celery pickling liquid or discard it.
For the gastrique
For the strawberries
1cuppeeled and sliced celery, plus a few leaves for optional garnish (1/4-inch crosswise slices, first trimmed with a vegetable peeler)
1⁄2cupquick pickling liquid (see NOTES)
15 grinds fresh black pepper, or as needed
1cuphulled, halved ripe strawberries
2tablespoonextra-virgin olive oil
2large basil leaves, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
4mint leaves, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
2tablespoonsskinned, toasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts (see NOTES)
For the gastrique: Combine the vinegar, agave nectar, water and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has reduced to a slightly syrupy state — enough to coat the back of a spoon. This will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. The yield will be 1 to 1 1/2 cups; the gastrique will thicken further as it cools.
Meanwhile, prep the strawberries: Combine the celery, 1/2 cup of the pickling liquid, the oil and about half those coarse grinds of the pepper in a medium bowl; taste as you go. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
Combine the strawberries, 1 tablespoon of the gastrique and the remaining grinds of pepper in a separate bowl, tasting as you go and tossing gently to coat. Season with salt, as needed.
Transfer the celery and a bit of its pickling liquid (to taste) to a medium serving bowl; the size of a cereal bowl will do. Add the gastrique-coated strawberries, then add the basil, mint, hazelnuts and the celery leaves, if using. Serve right away.
NOTES: To make the quick pickling liquid, combine 1 cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar, ½ cup water, ½ cup sugar and 1 bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until the sugar has dissolved, then let cool completely.
Toast the hazelnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan as needed to avoid scorching. Cool completely.
From Brad Deboy, executive chef at Elle in the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to email@example.com.
The ingredients are too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.
For a printer-friendly and scalable version of this recipe, view it here.