Before I launch into this post, a few words about celery. At some point, this lovely vegetable was relegated to sad crudité plates and deprivation diets. Which is a shame, because it can be such an appealing, crunchy and tasty addition to so many dishes. A few years ago, the importance of removing the strings from celery became clear to me in a deliciously unusual chopped salad of celery, sliced kumquats and shaved pecorino. (Try it!)
Stringing celery only takes a few seconds, but this simple effort packs tremendous results. Removing those fibrous, bitter strings leaves only the herbal sweetness — and snappy crunch — of the celery, and I cannot recommend it enough, no matter how you’re using the celery.
So. On with this sandwich. It’s a version of a signature ‘wichcraft creation that I had years ago and was reminded of recently when flipping through the ‘wichcraft cookbook. It’s a study in taste and texture contrasts — creamy/tangy goat cheese, crunchy celery, a bright lemon vinaigrette, silky avocado, rich/toasty pecan pesto, earthy baby spinach. And although it seems like a lot of different elements, the end result is harmonious and satisfying. (Plus, the goat cheese base holds the sliced celery in place, so it’s not falling out with each bite!)
Both the vinaigrette and the pecan pesto can be made in larger batches for use in more sandwiches or other salads, pastas, etc. And if the pecan pesto seems like too much effort for a single sandwich, you could easily just take toasted pecan pieces and mix them into the goat cheese before spreading on the bread.
Pairing: Bitter Lemon Gin Fizz
Here’s a springtime cocktail that goes down all too easily, like a grown-up lemonade or a delicate lemon sorbetto in cocktail form. The base of gin and elderflower liqueur is enhanced with fresh lemon and lime juice and a generous dash of orange bitters, then topped off with Bitter Lemon (Lemon Tonic) from Fever-Tree, a line of mixers that I’ve loved over the last couple of years.
The bright citrus — juice, peel, bitters — of this drink balances with the perfumed sweetness of the St. Germain and the juniper/pine/coriander notes of the gin. An equal-part pour of Bitter Lemon makes it low-ish in alcohol, for a cocktail, and easy to drink. And all of these flavors compliment the sandwich — citrus and goat cheese, gin and celery, elderflower and lemon, you get the idea.
Bitter Lemon Gin Fizz
1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin (or gin of your choice)
3/4 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
juice of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/4 large lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
3 ounces Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon (aka Lemon Tonic)
Fill a highball or long glass with ice. Add ingredients in order given. Stir well and serve. Makes 1 drink.
Recipe: Goat Cheese & Celery Sandwich with Avocado, Pecan Pesto & Baby Spinach
2 tablespoons fresh goat cheese (chevre), softened
2 slices multigrain bread
1 large stalk celery, strings removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/4 large lemon
1 teaspoon minced shallot
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8-10 leaves baby spinach
1/4 avocado, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted in a dry pan
Whisk together 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil with the lemon juice and shallot in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add celery slices and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a food processor, or using a mortar and pestle, mince the toasted pecans, drizzling in about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil until a paste forms. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Set aside.
Spread the goat cheese on one slice of the bread. Using your fingers or a slotted spoon, remove celery from vinaigrette and spread evenly over goat cheese. Add spinach leaves to remaining vinaigrette in the bowl and toss to lightly coat.
Top celery with avocado slices. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Top avocado with dressed spinach leaves. Spread the pecan pesto on the other slice of bread and close the sandwich. Cut in half and serve.
Makes 1 sandwich. Adapted from ‘wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal — And a Meal into a Sandwich