Well, here I am again. Back with that celery recipe. So glad that you actually came back for a celery recipe. But seriously, how often do you buy celery, use a stalk or two in a salad or a broth, and then throw out the rest a week or so later? I do it all the time, and this drives me crazy, because my inner 75-year-old Jewish woman HATES to throw food out.
(Actually, my poor husband, also known as the Dishwasher, gets stuck with the task of cleaning out the fridge because I just can't stand to see stuff go down the garbage disposal. It is lucky for him for many reasons, and not just because I would be food hoarder without him and that would be gross.)
But back to the celery...it is SO delicious. I never would have thought of serving cooked celery as a side dish on its own, but I was watching an episode of Lida's Italy last weekend, and was fascinated by the idea. That, and I had to use that celery! So we drove all the way to the library so I could check out Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy and voila, I found the celery recipe and made it.
Remember how I said my husband liked it even more than the mac and cheese the other night? Well, I don't know about that, but this recipe can indeed made celery taste good enough to rival mac and cheese, even to me, a HUGE mac and cheese fan. The celery gets soft and tender, a little sweet and concentrated in flavor. It balances nicely with the sweet onion, the garlic, and the spicy red pepper flakes. If you don't love spicy things, go ahead and leave the red pepper flakes out. One more thing -- this recipe calls for cooking the celery for about an hour. I think I cooked it for closer to 40 or 45 minutes...everything else was ready, and it already tasted great, so I just served it. But try cooking it longer and let me know what I was missing!
Braised Celery with Peperoncino and Garlic
adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes, by Lida Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali
2 1/2 pounds celery (1 large or 2 medium heads)
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup pitted black olives, optional (I did not use them)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups hot water
1. Separate the heads of celery, and clean them well. Cut into large 4 inch chunks (or smaller pieces, according to preference, which I did). Include the leaves. Use a peeler or a paring knife to remove the thick skin and strings on the outer stalks.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven oven medium heat. Stir in the garlic cloves and the onions. Heat them until they are sizzling and fragrant. Add in the celery, and sprinkle the salt and red pepper flakes in as well. Stir, so that the celery is coated with the oil. Cook over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, until the celery starts cooking. Stir in the olives if using, and turn up the heat a bit. Cook the vegetables for about 15 minutes, until the celery and the onion begin to brown and caramelize on the edges.
3. Meanwhile, stir the tomato paste into 2 cups hot water to make a braising liquid. Once the celery is a little bit browned, pour the liquid into the pot and bring it to a boil. (I used a little less celery, and knew I would be cooking it for less time, so I did not add all the liquid...closer to 1 cup.) Cover the pan and lower the heat, adjusting the heat as necessary so that the liquid slowly simmers. Cook for about 45 minutes (or 25-30, in my case!), until the celery is completely soft and caramelized, and the liquid has reduced to a glaze. (My liquid reduced much less due to my impatience, but the dish was still delicious.)
This is also great cold the next day!