I never paid much attention to celery — appearing in lunch box snacks of celery stuffed with pimento cheese, on a crudité platter, or as a garnish for a bloody mary. And yet, I always have a wilting bunch of celery in my refrigerator crisper in order to make tuna salad, or to dice into a mirepoix (along with carrots and onion) for soup or stew.
Although celery adds crunch to salads and flavor to chicken soup and turkey stuffing, it’s rarely the main event. I think it’s time to give celery a second look and discover its unexpected possibilities. Celery is available year-round. Because of its high water and fiber content, celery makes a perfect low-calorie snack. It’s also a good source of calcium and vitamin C.
Choose crisp, tight bunches that are free of brown spots. Or, if you prefer, buy bags of celery hearts that contain only the tender inner stalks. Bunches of celery can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to three weeks. Rinse before using. You’ll want to use a peeler to remove the toughest outer strings from the stalks. Save the leaves; their flavor is excellent and they make a fine garnish. Celery can be braised, stir-fried, or made into a soup.
For deliciously braised celery, peel 1 bunch celery and cut the stalks into long pieces on the bias. Add the celery to a skillet along with 1 cup chicken broth, 1 chopped carrot, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes. Cover and simmer until just tender, 20 minutes; uncover and boil to thicken. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Serves 4.
For celery soup, combine 1 bunch celery, stalks peeled and chopped (leaves reserved), 1 large new potato, chopped, and 1 medium chopped onion, and 1 stick butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; season with salt. Simmer until soft and add 2 tablespoons flour and cook 2 minutes over low heat. Add 3 cups chicken broth and 1 bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf and puree in blender. Stir in 1/2 cup cream. Serve soup topped with celery leaves, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4.
For celery stir-fry, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in skillet or wok over high heat and add 1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes; cook for 90 seconds. Add 1 bunch celery, peeled and cut lengthwise into 2” pieces, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute. Drizzle with a few drops of toasted sesame oil. Makes 6 side dish servings.
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CELERY, TOASTED WALNUT & PECORINO SALAD
Adapted from “Once Upon a Chef” by Jennifer Segal, Chronicle Books ($29.99).
This outstanding salad can be served as a first course or as a perfect accompaniment to grilled meats. The 2016 Cooper & Thief Tequila Barrel Aged Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99) is full of aromatic fruit characteristics and toasty vanilla flavors, achieved by aging sauvignon blanc in ex-Casa Noble Añejo tequila barrels for three months; making it a perfect choice for this salad. The lemon in the dressing actually brings out the fruitiness of the wine.
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 cups thinly sliced (on the bias) celery
1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (or substitute 1 small garlic clove, minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, from 1 lemon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup shaved or thinly sliced Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set the oven rack in the middle position. Arrange the walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake, checking frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the cheese. Toss well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the cheese and toss gently. Transfer to a platter and serve.