From get-go, you know you’re in for a cookbook packed with thoughtful culinary wisdom and wicked, sly humor when it’s entitled, “Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of” (William Morrow).
After all, anchovies and pancetta are as far removed as you can get from being vegetarian. But they are flavor boosters like no other, adding salty, meaty umami notes to anything they touch, even in minute proportions.
Peternell’s newest cookbook will make you a better cook — by offering up easily doable recipes, all written with mouth-watering descriptions, that teach you why certain ingredients work so well with others, and how a dish built around just a handful of items can truly sing. Enjoy everything from “Steamed Clams with Almond and Parsley Butter and No Linguine” to “Caesar’s Gougeres” and “Almond Granita.”
The book also can’t help but make you smile, what with its personality and wit. Take for instance, Peternell’s intro to his recipe for “Green Beans with Shallots, Basil and Almonds”: “You never forget the first time you went full herbal. It was sweet and soon you just couldn’t seem to get enough of the green, fragrant leaf. Basil is what I’m talking about (what were you thinking?) and my first time was with pesto, some say basil’s apex state. I immediately wanted to live there. Before, herbs were things I didn’t eat: curly parsley borders at brunch or dusty jars on a long long Lazy Susan ride. These days, my kitchen counters are positively green from parsley chopping sessions and herb picking is a fragrant, nightly, pre-dinner ritual at which refreshments are served. And even when I am not making pesto, I still like to cook with handfuls of basil, sauteeing it to set the color and infuse the oil with flavor.”
Makes you want to head to the kitchen to make pesto immediately, doesn’t it?
That’s the kind of nudge I got after spying “Celery and Apple Salad with Pounded Almonds, Anchovies, Parmesan, and Parsley.” After all, I almost always have all of those ingredients at home, especially in the winter. Plus, the combination of apples and anchovies had me thoroughly intrigued.
Garlic is pounded in a mortar and pestle with anchovies and almonds to form a pungent paste. Then, lemon juice, a dash of cider vinegar, salt, black pepper and olive oil get stirred in to create the bold dressing.
The body of the salad is just thinly sliced apples tossed with frisee and celery. The celery is actually sliced thinly, then blanched quickly to leave it a little more tender yet still plenty crisp. Truth be told, if you use the inner stalks that are less stringy to begin with, you probably can get away with skipping the blanching step. Since I already had spring mix in my fridge, I opted to use that rather than make a special trip to the store for frisee.
Toss the dressing with the salad ingredients, then sprinkle with more toasted almonds, as well as a flourish of freshly grated Parmesan.
What you end up with is like a riff on Caesar salad. It’s got that same perky, zesty, briny, cheesy depth of flavor, thanks to the anchovies, garlic, lemon and Parmesan. But it tastes fresher and newer, what with the abundance of crunchy celery and sweet-tart apples.
I am so in love with this salad. So much so that even if the recipe states it serves 4 to 6, I think it’s more like 2 to 4 (so I made that change). Because once you try a forkful, you’ll be hard pressed not to inhale all of it.
The dressing along with the apples and celery worked fine with spring mix. Radicchio or endive would also be great. Or dare I say — yes, even kale.
Celery and Apple Salad with Pounded Almonds, Anchovies, Parmesan, and Parsley
(Serves 2 to 4)
Kosher or sea salt
6 celery stalks, trimmed, washed, and thinly sliced at a long angle
2 tablespoons almonds, toasted
1 almond-sized garlic clove
4 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 crisp apples, such as Gala or Pink Lady
1 medium head frisee, green leaf-tips trimmed away and core removed so that leaves are loose
1/2 cup parsley leaves, whole if tender, or roughly chopped
Bring a pot of water to a boil for the celery. Add salt till it tastes right, then add the celery and boil till tender, about 5 minutes. It should be nearly soft with a little crispness still — taste pieces occasionally to know when it’s there. Drain and spread on a platter to cool.
Meanwhile, make the dressing: Roughly crush the almonds with a mortar and pestle. Set the almonds aside and pound the garlic with a pinch of salt in the mortar until nearly liquid. Add the anchovies and pound to a paste. Add half of the almonds back in and pound to a paste again. Grind in some black pepper and stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in the olive oil, taste, correct, and set aside.
Cut a thin slice from one of the apples and taste to see what the skin is like. If it seems tough, peel the apples, then quarter, core, and thinly slice them. In a salad bowl, combine the apple, celery, frisee, and parsley, and toss with most of the dressing and a pinch of salt. Taste, adjust, and arrange on a platter. Drizzle the remaining dressing on top and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and slivers or gratings of Parmesan.
Adapted from “Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta” by Cal Peternell
Another Cal Peternell Recipe to Try: Spicy Ground Pork with Ginger, Lime, Peppers, and Asparagus (Or Green Beans)