Celery is a nutritious vegetable that isn’t used enough. Writings of a historical vent state that in olden days celery was referred to as an aphrodisiac. I cannot speak to that.
But I know celery is very good and good for you. And oddly enough, many people don’t know what to do with it. Chopped and added to chicken salad might be a good place to start; chopped celery can sometimes be found in potato salad and in many green salads, but it usually isn’t the dominant item.
But I can say that “My Silky Cream of Celery Soup” is unique (easy to make and there are no strings attached, and you don’t even have to strain it, due to how I precook the celery), and my original soup just could become a regular at your house, too. It is a very tasty, humble end product. Three-quarters of a medium-large head of celery could feed several people. Really!
Rinse the whole head of celery well under cold running water to chase away any loose bits of sand, leaving the ribs attached to the natural growing root stump.
Chop the celery very fine, starting at the top leafy end. It’s often best to use a serrated knife. Hold the full head of celery firmly and saw off pieces about a quarter-inch thick. I use about three-quarters of a generous head of celery and including the leaves. About four cups of chopped celery.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, a little fresh or fresh freeze-dried parsley, basil and thyme using LiteHouse brand if available. Add just a pinch of sweet paprika granules. Sauté the chopped celery in very hot sizzling butter (not browned), along with a chopped half medium-size white onion; sauté nearly until mashable.
This helps to pre-cook down the strings that are part of the celery’s natural construction. The strings literally will disappear. Deglaze the sauté pan with a quarter cup of your favourite gin, or with a little homemade chicken stock. (Sorry, I cannot bear the thought that you use the packaged chicken stock. It is full of preservatives that over time can affect your health.) Just save chicken bones when you prepare chicken any which way, boil the bones with a few vegetables added and voilà, you have your own instant chicken broth; freeze it until needed, always at the ready.
I prefer, rather than cooking the celery as stalks, to cook the chopped celery pieces separately along with a chopped half-onion in unsalted butter in a sauté pan. Then pulse it in the food processor or blender when cooked very tender and then “grind” in the blender with a very sharp blade.
This will produce a wonderful thickened celery base. Then add the processed celery to the homemade chicken stock, made with veggies and herbs and spices. About four cups of stock should do.
For this celery soup you will add two medium-large peeled potatoes, quartered and rested briefly in enough sugar water to cover (just a little granulated sugar really enhances the flavour of potatoes) and then add to the soup pot (include the sugar water). Chop a medium large carrot and add it to the soup pot.
Add a tablespoon each of fresh or fresh freeze-dried LiteHouse brand basil, parsley and a half teaspoon of crushed thyme, a generous pinch of nutmeg, a sprinkle of sweet paprika and four peeled whole garlic cloves. The garlic will be very sweet when soft and will disappear in the blender; the garlic cloves merely enhance the other flavours and you won’t even taste them. Salt and pepper.
Simmer slowly and don’t leave the kitchen. If you have to top up the chicken broth a little, that’s okay. You don’t want the stock to disappear.
When cooking soup, specific quantities are not necessary, but a good balance is.
Simmer the soup pot for about 20 minutes after you have added the pureed celery and onion mix or until the carrot and potato pieces are tender. Let cool a little and process in a kitchen machine or blend the whole pot a few cups at a time using the blender grind setting. Then puree each batch after grinding for several minutes and save in a large bowl. I use an eight-cup Pyrex glass measuring jug with a lip.
You will have about eight cups of thick celery soup base when you are finished. Add a tablespoon of cognac to the thick base and just stir gently.
Add the base puréed celery mix to about two cups of very hot scalded and slightly reduced half and half cream and fold to incorporate. Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle the soup with a fine julienne of fresh mint (celery is in the mint family) and parsley, and a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a little lemon zest. Stir.
Ideally, serve in a wide low soup plate with a wide rim, hot water heated to help keep the soup hot. Hot food items should be served hot and let the person enjoying the food decide how long to wait until it is a just right temperature. Each person has a different hot food tolerance level.
Scatter crispy garlic croutons on each serving, along with a small dollop of (very fresh only) basil whipped cream (it will turn green). No need to add sugar as you likely would when whipping cream. Just finely mince fresh basil leaves and fold into the whipped cream. Add a pinch of salt.
On top of the whipped cream dollop, sprinkle a few crushed green pistachios and grind some pink peppercorns over the plate. Drizzle with a few drops of your favourite herb oil. Do not stir. Just let the oil sit on the surface.
You could even choose to add a couple of your tiny frozen herb compound butter coins from your log. Do not stir, just let the compound butter coins melt in the very hot soup. Very delicious, indeed. The soup needs to be very hot, initially.
ALTERNATE: You could mince candied citrus rinds from your pantry sugar jar (best done in a mini food processor) and add to the celery soup when you add the lemon. And choose to use crushed homemade candied walnuts if you don’t have pistachios in your pantry.
My Instant Tomato Basil Salad is nice as a side. Maybe add some fresh chopped celery to it, or a few chopped celery leaves, just when ready to serve. Have some toasted soldiers ready for soup-dipping, or perhaps some smeared with homemade oven-roasted golden garlic puree, toasted crostini.
You might hear WOW! a few times as my mysterious “silky smooth on the palate” cream of celery soup is enjoyed. The soup is a calming creamy pale yellow-green colour, a little like yellow Chartreuse; speaking of which you could add a tablespoon of yellow Chartreuse instead of the cognac. And note that there is no flour in my cream soups.
A perfect accompaniment is a Canadian Bloody Caesar. Place a celery (flowered in ice water) rib in each tall glass, as a stir stick.
A tasty perfect snack:
Fill a celery stalk with your favourite cheese. Cheddar, mild, medium or old is always a welcome addition. But if you love blue cheese, note that if you make my warm blue cheese dressing and refrigerate it overnight it congeals and becomes a spreadable paste consistency. It can easily become a dressing again, but congealed it is a wonderful filler for celery stalks.
For a totally different snack, fill celery stalk with pâté: liver, chicken liver pâté (made with Vermouth, particularly good using Noilly Prat if available where you are; it was delisted in Ontario but is coming back. Martini and Rossi vermouth could work and is available locally, both Bacardi products) or use chicken pâté such as my tortilla chicken filler.
Split the end of a celery stalk into fine shreds and let sit for a bit in ice water and the split end will curl into a beautiful flower shape. Pat dry and fill. You could even crumple a little crispy fried sage over the filled celery stalk.
On a guest tray, you could make mini-celery flower sticks about two inches long (keep in ice water until ready to serve), and park them on toasted black-olive bread crostini, smeared with a mashed marinated Canadian goat cheese coin or two from your at the ready jar. If you have a cognac marinating jar of black mission figs, choose a small piece of fig to add to the goat cheese coins on the celery-topped crostini.
The working title for Carolyne’s Gourmet Recipes cookbook is From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks. This kitchen-friendly doyenne has been honoured and referred to as the grande dame of executive real estate in her market area during her 35-year career. She taught gourmet cooking in the mid-70s and wrote a weekly newspaper cooking column, long before gourmet was popular as it is today. Her ebook, Gourmet Cooking – at Home with Carolyne is available here for $5.99 US. Email Carolyne. Scroll down to the comments at each recipe column. Carolyne often adds complimentary “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen” additional recipes in the Recipes for Realtors Comments section at REM.