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Thursday, September 25, 2008

braised celery with tomatoes, capers, and olives


I had a celery crisis on my hands. Celery was taking over my precious refrigerator space! The entire bottom shelf was stacked with plastic bags of big beautiful bunches of Alaskan celery. In the last two weeks, I’d received two huge and leafy bunches in the Community-Supported Agriculture produce boxes that my friend Arthur and I have just begun distributing. And before that, I had been collecting the stuff since it started showing up at the farmers’ market several weeks ago.

It’s so flavorful and delicious compared to the celery you can get at the grocery store—it seemed like a good idea to stock up. In fact, I was buying some of it to do just that: make vegetable stock to freeze and use in soups, later. But I hadn’t gotten around to making the stock yet—the more perishable vegetables always had a higher priority. So there the celery sat.

What the heck does one do with celery, other than using the odd stalk or six to make a great vegetable or lentil soup? I certainly couldn’t eat enough “ants on a log” to break up this particular logjam. I had way too much celery for that. It was time for the heavy artillery. I pulled out all my books that specialize in vegetable cookery, looking for celery recipes that didn’t involve stock (which I still haven’t made) or ingredients that required a trip to the store, like vermouth, celery seeds, or celeriac. I came across a recipe for braised celery in Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day, and this is my variation. I made a huge batch of it with two of my biggest bunches of celery.

Turns out, I really like this recipe! Salty and savory, with a subtle crunch from the celery… it’s a great way to use up a bonanza of celery. Also, the ingredients are mostly pantry staples…  (and can’t you really classify celery as a staple? It lasts SO long in your fridge.)  So whip up a batch of this yummy dish next time you’re overrun with celery, or just desperate for a vegetable side dish.

braised celery with tomatoes, capers, and olives

This recipe is based on one in Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day. The salty capers and briny olives are great with the naturally salty celery—and I’m betting you might just have all of these ingredients in your pantry, ready to whip up into a very easy side dish.

1 large bunch celery, with leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, minced
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen—they are really sweet!)
1 to 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
10 to 15 large Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
sea salt or kosher salt (maybe)
freshly ground pepper

1. Tear the celery leaves away from the stalks and set them aside. and cut off the small branchy stems on top of the main celery stalks. Trim and discard any tough portions from the bottom and top of each celery stalk. Peel the outside of the stalks to remove the stringy fibers, using a paring knife to grab the top outer edge of the stalk, and then peeling it down the outside of the stem to get the strings. Cut the stalks into 2-inch lengths. (You’ll have about 6 cups.)
2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened and golden, about 4 minutes. Add the celery, turn down the heat and cover the pan. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, turning the celery occasionally.
3. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover the pan again. Simmer the mixture until the celery is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water if the pan goes dry before the celery is tender (I did). My celery never got completely soft—there was a little resistance to it even after 25 minutes of cooking, but I liked it that way.
4. Meanwhile, chop up the celery leaves. When the celery is tender, stir in the capers, olives and celery leaves. Taste for salt (I didn’t use any salt because capers, olives, and tomatoes were already salty enough), and add freshly-ground pepper. Serve right away.


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