_To the ancient Greeks it was associated with the cult of death. Augustine of Hippo referred to it as the Devil's Fingers. Matthew Hopkins, the 17thc. Witchfinder General, regarded possession of it as proof positive of being in communion with the Diabolical One.*
All of which may seem fanciful to us now. But surely no benign and loving God would have created such a monstrosity?
Ask yourself this: have you ever bought celery with anything other than a heavy heart? You may well be whistling a merry tune as you skip gaily down the supermarket aisle towards the aubergines, courgettes, broccoli and tomatoes; but a quick glance at your shopping list and there it is - celery. Standing before the vile things you're racked with indecision. A whole head or a pack of prepared sticks? There's less of it in the pack, but the whole head is cheaper. Your morning is ruined.
The reason for all this torment is fiendishly simple and has nothing to do with the taste: celery is not fit for purpose. There's too fucking much of it. Almost any other vegetable or fruit is just the size it should be. A large potato is of exactly the right dimensions that you want for a baked potato. A banana has just the right amount of flesh that you want to consume in one go. Other vegetables and fruit are conveniently small enough to make up whatever quantity you need at the time. One of the few exceptions to this is pumpkin and when is that mainly used? HALLOWEEN. Oh yes. If God had created celery, it would only have two stalks, because that's the most that almost any recipe ever calls for.
Actually, I can't understand why the farming industry hasn't developed just such a hybrid. It's all well and good Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall leading the campaign to save fish stocks. But what I really want to see is Hugh's Celery Fight - lobbying the government to divert money from education, health and social services towards research into two-stalked celery. Together we can make this happen.
Until then, here's a few recipes:
_Because I make it so frequently, this is the recipe that usually causes me to buy celery.
2 onions, roughly chopped
salt + pepper
3 tbsps olive oil
2 celery sticks, chopped
400g tin of tomatoes (the best you can get)
75g green olives, stoned
2 tbsps capers, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
1 dsp caster sugar
3 tbsps white wine vinegar
1 x aubergine, cut into smallish chunks
N.B. I often use Uniq Moscatel vinegar for this recipe, which is quite sweet, and therefore don't add any sugar.
Season the onions and fry in the oil until soft. Add the celery and fry for a further 3-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce has thickened a little. Add the olives, capers, sugar and vinegar and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, season the aubergine chunks, toss in a little olive oil and roast at 200C/180C for about 20 minutes or until golden. Stir into the rest of the caponata and check for seasoning. Allow to cool. If not eating within a day or so, store in the fridge in a sterilised jar, topped off with olive oil to cover.
celery + tomato pasta sauce
From the divine Marcella Hazan's 'Marcella Cucina'. It's worth quoting her introduction in full:
"The aroma of celery, a zephyr-like presence, has a background role in many preparations, from vegetable soups to risotti and stuffings to stews, but in this Roman sauce it gets an up front opportunity to display all its considerable charm. There is a greater consideration when using Spanish or Israeli celery, whose scent is usually more muted than that of Italian or English varieties. To achieve the aromatic intensity desirable when cooking with the former use leaves and sticks in equal proportion, whereas with the latter, if you use leaves at all, it need only be in a ratio of one part to four of sticks. If you'd like to do as the Romans do, serve the sauce over fine homemade fettucine."
That, my friends, is cookery writing.
1 tbsp olive oil
75g onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 celery leaves, chopped (optional)
550g canned imported Italian plum tomatoes cut up, with their juice
black pepper freshly ground
50g freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Put 25g of butter, the olive oil and the onion in a medium saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion becomes a pale gold.
Add the celery sticks and leaves (if using) and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes with their juice, salt and a liberal grinding of pepper, turn them over two or three times with the other ingredients, turn down the heat to low or medium low, and cook at a gentle simmer for about 15 or 20 minutes until the fat floats and begins to separate from the sauce.
Cook and drain your pasta, toss it immediately and thoroughly with the sauce, swirling into it the remaining butter and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
_ 2 celery hearts
salt + black pepper
2 bay leaves
150ml dry white wine
150ml chicken stock
1 tsp lemon juice
a small handful of grated parmesan
Cut off the ends of the stalks to neaten (if necessary). Slice off the brown base of the celery heads, then quarter. Place in a shallow oven-proof dish.
Season, add the bay leaves and pour over the wine and stock. Squirt with lemon juice, dot with butter and cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes at 180C/160C fan. Remove the foil, scatter over the parmesan and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or so.
celery + cornichon salad
40ml olive oil
10 ml red wine vinegar
2 sticks celery, thinly sliced
6 cornichons, thinly sliced lengthways
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp grated parmesan
Make a dressing with the oil and vinegar. Mix everything together.
3 royal gala (or similar) apples
4 sticks of celery and a few leaves
80g walnuts, lightly toasted
3-4 tbsps mayonnaise
salt + black pepper
Core the apple and cut into 20mm chunks. Cut the celery into similar size chunks and put them into a bowl with the apple and walnuts and celery leaves. Bind with the mayonnaise, season to taste and serve.
This last recipe is for just the kind of soup I don't like - refined. But needs must...
cream of celery soup
1 head of celery, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
100ml single cream
a pinch of nutmeg
salt + black pepper
2 tbsps olive oil
Heat the oil in a pan over a low heat and add the celery, onion and garlic. Sauté for around 10 minutes until the celery is soft but not coloured. Add the parsley and stock. Season (it may not need salt if you're using a stock cube) and add a little nutmeg. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then stir in the cream. Whiz in a processor until smooth.
* Only one of these 'facts' is true.
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014