In the midst of studying for an exam later this week (in fact it was in the middle of a list of the whopping 150 phytochemicals present in onions) it occurred to me that the most humble of vegetables, the ones that seem almost pedestrian in a kitchen, are in fact the ones that are full of the most promise. They might need a little bit of coaxing with other flavours or a completely different approach to make them delicious in their own right, but that is exactly what makes the wait so worthwhile. They are the ones that can elicit the most surprising comments and complements. Take celery for example. How many times have I bought a whole or half bunch just to use one, maybe two stalks and left the rest to waste away in the fridge? Okay, so you can juice the remainder, something we do often as celery is a fantastic cleanser for the kidneys, but that seems kind of lazy.
So, armed with a huge bunch of the most luscious organic celery and a determination not to let it rot away this time, I set out to cook as many things as possible. I often feel sorry for the Artist as he does have to put up with endless dishes on a theme at times (a few weeks ago it was lentils every night...) but this was easier to take. The braised celery is unbelievably good – I’m not kidding you, it is utterly delicious.
Braised celery - serves 2 with a bit left over
Braising is a simple method of cooking celery that highlights its delicate flavour but is by no means plain - in fact it renders this vegetable utterly delicious with its buttery juices. The perfect accompaniment would be thin pan-fried white fish fillets with a squeeze of lemon juice, preferably King Whiting as they are not only beautiful but according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s guide to sustainable seafood they are a species that is a good choice for conscientious consumers. If fish ain’t your thing then serve the celery with some garlicky, well-flavoured green (French or Puy) lentils and plain steamed basmati rice.
30g butter or 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 whole bunch of celery, trimmed of its leaves and cut into 10 cm lengths
1 clove of garlic, sliced thinly
3 semi-dried tomatoes, finely sliced
2 cups of vegetable stock, made with a cube, maybe more (see below)
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped or a drop or two of soy sauce
Heat the butter or oil in a frying pan in which the celery will fit cosily in one layer. Add the celery, the garlic and the semi-dried tomatoes and fry, moving around occasionally, until the celery has caught on the bottom of the pan in places, turning an attractive golden mottled colour. Almost cover with stock- you might need to add a little more than suggested above according to the size and shape of your pan - and cook at a simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the celery is tender. Top up with water from time to time if the celery seems to be taking a while to get to that stage. Increase the heat, throw in the anchovies or dash of soy sauce and reduce until the celery coated in a small amount of sticky sauce. Serve hot.
Celery leaf soup serves 4
Stuck for what to do with the left over leaves that you’ve trimmed? Don’t throw them away - I saw Maggie Beer on the telly the other day put them into a winter salad of roasted vegetables and chickpeas, dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar that looked fantastic. Or you could make this soup. Just make sure that you use organic celery as pesticides tend to lurk in the leaves...
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
Leaves from 1 bunch of celery, well washed
1 litre of vegetable stock (good stock cube is fine)
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized potato, scrubbed clean and chopped into 2cm dice
2-3 tablespoons of organic cream (optional)
Sea salt and pepper
6-8 slices of sourdough bread, toasted
1 cup of grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese
Heat the garlic, celery leaves stock and diced potato together in a large heavy based saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Lower heat, cover and add the oil. Simmer for 30 minutes with the lid on. When ready, blend until smooth and return to the pot with the cream if you are using it. Season to taste and gently re-heat. Top each piece of bread with a little cheese and grill until bubbling. Serve with the hot soup.