Saturday, 18 April 2009

Celery - the overlooked veg

How often do you find anyone - cookery writers included - singing the praises of celery? Yet it's a frugal cook's friend - inexpensive, adaptable and tasty. It helps admittedly if you can buy the sort of luxuriant bunches you get in France, even in the supermarkets, which still have their leaves but even so it's a useful veg for any cook to have to hand.

I bought a bunch the other day to make Peposo, a slow braised Italian beef stew with pepper that one of the students I work with on my student site Beyond Baked Beans had posted on our Facebook page. (A great recipe - do try it!) It's one of the essential components of an Italian sofrito, the finely diced mixture of veg (the others being onions and carrot) that form the basis of ragus and stews

Last night I used most of the rest in a simple dish of braised celery, simmered with a couple of green onions and a little stock which we had with a dish of stuffed mussels in tomato sauce (a Languedoc speciality). There was enough sauce and celery leftover to combine the two for a soup today but I shall have to think what do do with the rest before we leave early on Monday.

I could add it to a salad - you can use the stalks for crunch and the leaves instead of parsley. It's very good with apple and with tuna - and cold chicken though I don't have any at the moment. You can add it to a tuna or chicken sandwich filling with mayo. You can use lengths of the stalk to dunk in dips such as hummus or with whipped goats' cheese.

I suspect you could grill it, fennel-style, on a ridged grill pan and dress it with olive oil and lemon juice which would be great with grilled fish.

You can use it to make a creamy soup or a tasty gratin with a breadcrumb and parmesan topping

So what's the problem? Why don't we hear more about it?

Are you a celery lover or a celery hater? And if you like it tell me what you do with it.


Claudine said...

I love celery and tend to eat it cooked.
After blanching in water for 8-10mn, the outside stems are braised with lardons and a mix of white wine and stock, and the heart is wrapped in ham, topped with some thick crème fraîche and covered in grated cheese before being finished in the oven (not for slimming!)
I freeze the leaves and sprinkle them, still frozen, in soups or bolognese sauce.

Anne said...

I love celery, is a great bulker in sofrito, mince dishes etc but also tastes good on its own. A personal favourite is chicken and celery pie, where the flavour shines through. Cream of celery soup is also delicious.

It has quite a strong flavour which I think some people find off-putting perhaps?

notSupermum said...

Celery is probably the only vegetable I don't like to eat, it repeats on me very badly. Sorry, was that too much information?

I do like celeriac though, does that count? I love it in soups, or mashed into potato. It has such a unique flavour.

Fiona Beckett said...

Great suggestions, Claudine and Anne (particularly the chicken and celery pie and indulgent crème fraiche gratin). I certainly hadn't thought of freezing the leaves (we did have them mixed with a grated carrot salad at lunch just now though)

It has quite a strong flavour (which is maybe why you don't take to it notSupermum) but that can be counterbalanced by other ingredients such as tomato, lemon, cream and parmesan.

I agree that celeriac is a great veg but it gets quite a lot of respect so doesn't need championing as much as celery ;-)

kathytoot said...

I always have celery on hand because I make a lot of veggie/legume soups and like the crunch in sandwich mixes.

There's been a lot of buzz lately about celery as an aphrodisiac! Can't cut & paste on my iPod, but Google the words - celery pheromone androsterone. That ought to get folks interested in the stuff.

Neil said...

I'm a celery lover, it goes into ragus and other mince based pies etc for me.

Combined with onions, and carrots it's usually the base for a roast trivet etc.

I love it cooked, and love it raw. So tasty. Though in supermarkets it's not cheap, head to your local market whether its fresh or from a wholesaler it can be more like 50p than the 80+ others may want!

C said...

Sadly I just don't like celery. I have tried.... but nope, it's not for me. Give me a nice raw crunchy carrot any day!

Due to this celery aversion I've not bothered with celeriac either (it's a large amount of stuff to use up if you end up not liking it!) but see that notSupermum likes it - perhaps I shall give it a go!

Anonymous said...

I love raw celery - plain or with some peanut butter. It's wonderful in soups, and I, too, like to freeze the leaves for later use as seasoning.

Mary Eman

Fiona Beckett said...

Celery as aphrodisiac? Excellent propaganda tool, kathytoot. That should appeal to students on my Beyond Baked Beans Facebook page!

Thank you for the tip about markets, Neil. It is cheaper there and also you're more likely to get bunches with leaves

C - with all these great suggestions, give it - and celeriac -another try. (Try mixing puréed celeriac half and half with mashed potato for a tasty and unusual mash. You're right notSupermum is most particular so if she likes it you might too ;-)

And good idea about peanut butter, anonymous. There's an Indonesian recipe called gado gado which is a lime and chilli-spiked peanut dip. That would be great.

Paul A said...

I have just eaten a cheddar cheese sandwich - I had added some celery including some chopped up leaves - nice.
The leaves are the best part in my opinion as they have such a distinctive flavour, I use them to flavour a variety of dishes and seem to go well where one may use corriander at the end of cooking, such as on noodles for example - the effect obviously is quite different but often very delicious and thus make a good alternative to corriander if you find you have none.

I tend to cook the stalks as a base to other dishes or add them finely sliced to salads.

James said...

I'm a celery fan too. The celery in ham and cheese sauce that Claudine mentions is a family favourite - great comfort food. Also I like roasting it as a vegetable accompaniment - goes great with carrots with winter type stews or your sunday roast. Or small diced celery goes great in french style creamy peas. Great juice as well. Carrot, apples and celery in your juicer first thing in the morning - it gets you going much better than tea or coffee.

LC Neill said...

I had celery root for the first time recently. It was delicious. Made with a little chicken stock.

Alex said...

I'm a lover. Simply braised is my fave way to eat it. I think it doesn't get much press as other veg because it's such a staple - like onions or potatoes... I'd be lost without it.

AliceD said...

I made a very good veal polpettone (from Marcella's kitchen by Marcella Hazan) which uses a handful of celery leaves, a little bacon or pancetta and two bayleaves as seasoning. Minced English veal was on offer in Waitrose last week, and 450 grams goes a surprisingly long way (served four easily). The polpettone has to be rolled in breadcrumbs, so I frugally used up the stale bread as well!

Anonymous said...

I love it! Even if you don't like the texture, try cream of celery soup. I like to use an old trick that I read in Julia Child to make a really velvety cream soup with very little cream - put in the odd spoonful of leftover cooked rice with the celery and a leek/onion, sweat in butter, add broth, simmer for a few minutes, and puree. You only need the tiniest bit of cream to finish it and it's good cold or hot. Always gets good reviews (after people ask what it is. I strain through a chinoise and most people don't recognize the taste instantly.)

Fiona Beckett said...

More great suggestions! This is turning out to be a really good thread with lots of new contributors - welcome all!

Nice suggestion for a cheese sarnie, Paul A (another leaf fan)

Forgot about juice, James. That's a great suggestion too.

Glad you enjoyed celery root LCNeill

Braised is always good, Alex

LOVE the idea of the veal polpettone, Alex. You can never have too many meatballs IMO

And a very good tip on thickening soups with rice rather than cream, Anonymous. Thankyou.

We should set up a celery fan page on Facebook (only joking)

Alexx said...

I love cooked celery, it adds an extra dimension to risottos, stews, pasta....I agree that it is overlooked, I always have it in my fridge!

Andrea said...

I am so so about celery. Sometimes when I am craving something fresh I reach for it, and others I feel quite deflated. There have been some great suggestions on this thread - I especially like the idea of it in a cheese sandwich for crunch - and I am another leaf lover too - they make a great refreshing garnish when used in place of parsley. I also sometimes chop up celery to use in a raita instead of cucumber, bit of thick yoghurt, pinch of sea salt, bit of ground cumin and chopped fresh celery - yum!

Fiona Beckett said...

Great suggestion about the celery raita, Andrea, I'll definitely try that. I also had a nice cheese plate the other day in a restaurant of gorgonzola mixed (I think) with a little cream, celery and walnuts and just a touch of honey. Really delicious!

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Aurelius said...

Here's another frugal tip. After you use the celery, save the butt and plant it in your garden. I took one and chopped it in half, and put bits in a pot, and now I've got two new celery bunches sprouting. Absolutely couldn't find this method of propagation on the web, but it works.

Fiona Beckett said...

Amazing Aurelius! I haven't got a garden but maybe those of you who have will report back.

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