Occasionally, I like to pull a few cookbooks off the shelf and browse through them in search of things I might want to cook. That’s how I discovered a recipe for braised celery, in the San Angelo Junior League’s cookbook, submitted by a Mrs. Evrard Ricci.
Now, I’m familiar with celery. I use it in all the usual ways that Americans use celery—soups, salads, stuffing, snack. But until I saw this recipe, it had never occurred to me that cooked celery could be the main ingredient of its own dish.
Clearly, it went on the list.
Then I looked for variations on the theme. Braised celery, to my surprise, is A Thing. Alton Brown has a basic recipe, which is pretty similar to the one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything—and both are riffs on the method for “celery in butter” given in the original Larousse Gastronomique. They’re all pretty sparse, and would work best with really fresh, flavorful celery. Alexa Weibel has a much more elaborate version at NYT Cooking, which I plan to try next holiday season. Julia Child apparently has a recipe, but I don’t (yet) own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so I couldn’t check it.
I do, however, have a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which has three recipes for celery: braised and gratinéed with parmesan; braised with potatoes in olive oil and lemon juice; and braised with onion, pancetta, and tomato. That’s the one I ended up making (in our electric skillet, because our gas range died).
Start by sautéing a thinly-sliced onion in oil until lightly golden. Add pancetta, also cut into thin strips (I actually used soppressata, which is what I had on hand). Once the fat on the meat starts to render, add a can of tomatoes (the recipe calls for whole plum tomatoes, chopped coarsely, but I just used diced) along with the celery, cut into chunks on the bias, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and let cook until celery reaches desired tenderness.
It was … fine? The celery by itself didn’t really taste like anything, but the sauce was good. Ultimately, the celery I used was mediocre—it was a package of celery hearts from Sam’s that had been in our fridge for more than a week, and had partially frozen in places (our second fridge has some really cold spots). With better celery, I hope for better results; this is definitely a method I plan to try again.
The leftovers got added to a stew with part of a pot of beans (Rancho Gordo’s alubia blancas, to which I added chopped parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and some sautéed smoked sausage. Both the beans and the celery seemed happier the second time around.
Have any of y’all eaten or made braised celery? Let us know in the comments below.