If I had to, I probably could make the case that my favorite salad has nothing to do with where I ate it and with whom. It's a darn good one: chopped parsley, thinly sliced fennel, celery root and red onion dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and a scattering of pumpkin seeds. It's a delight in the summer and a lifesaver in winter, when fresh vegetables are more fond memory than reality.
But that would only be half the truth. I love this salad because I love the restaurant that makes it: Frankies Spuntino in Brooklyn. It's a neighborhood joint; "spuntino" means "little snack" in Italian. It's slightly cramped and a little noisy, and has a clientele that favors handlebar mustaches. (Hey, it's Brooklyn.) But the food is always terrific, whether I am craving a bowl of pasta, meatballs in red sauce or a really good salad.
I've re-created several salads at home, although somehow they're never quite as good. Now, with the release of "The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual" (Artisan, June 2010), anyone can make the real thing.
>Fennel, Celery Root, Parsley and Red Onion Salad
1/2 bulb (8 ounces) celery root (celeriac), peeled, cored and cut into long,thin strips (2 cups)
8 ounces fennel (outer layer and tough stems discarded), cored, then cut into long, thin strips ( 2 cups), fronds reserved for optional garnish
1/2 small red onion, cut into thin slices ( 2/3 cup)
Leaves from 1 or 2 bunches parsley, preferably flat-leaf, chopped (2 cups packed)
1/4 cup olive oil, or more to taste
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste (2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted (see NOTE)
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, cut into thin slices or shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler
Combine the celery root, fennel, onion and parsley in a large bowl; toss to combine. Add the oil, lemon juice and salt and the white pepper to taste; toss to combine. Taste, and adjust the acidity or seasoning as needed.
Divide the salad among serving plates. Finish each portion with one-quarter of the pumpkin seeds and some of the cheese. Garnish with the fennel fronds, if desired, and serve. 4 servings.
The original recipe calls for a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil to finish the salad, but here we have used pumpkin seeds instead. They're easy to find and inexpensive, and they add a nice crunch.
At Frankies, the salads get as much attention as the delicate ricotta cavatelli. The pairings are simple but smart: Shaved raw Brussels sprouts are served with lemon juice and sharp Castelrosso cheese; escarole is dressed with a sweet-and-sour walnut dressing and curls of Sardinian sheep's-milk cheese.
Note: To toast pumpkin seeds, toss them with 1 tablespoon of canola oil and spread in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes; allow to cool completely.
Per serving: 260 calories, 8 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.