No it isn't just for the cheese plate. I get fed up with pulling limp heads of celery out of friend's fridges. I'm not sure why people buy it if they don't know what to do with celery – it's a waste of food and farmers' time.
With fantastic flavouring, the pleasures of celery are plentiful, but sadly rarely explored. Raw and crisp, it's great in a salad, thinly shaved – or just for a snack. In soups, stews and risottos, it makes a fragrant and flavoursome addition.
So don't just stick it in your basket, letting it wilt in your fridge (or occasionally using it with cheese) and wait for me to come and revive it. Try some new dishes with celery; you'll be delighted with what you can do.
The recipes below can be made from one large head of leafy celery and all of the trimmings can be used to make the stock.
Griddled prawns with sweet and sour celery
Make sure you buy the best possible sea-water prawns for this dish – and try to get ones that are large and meaty. It always amazes me the random difference in size and quality of prawns on the market these days.
16-20 large sea-water prawns, peeled and de-veined (save the shells for a soup or stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy
A handful of small celery leaves, washed
For the dressing
1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
½ small red chilli, finely chopped
20-30g root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp tomato ketchup
½tbsp kecap manis soy sauce
1tsp rice wine or sherry vinegar
50-60ml vegetable or corn oil
½tbsp chopped coriander
To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together, season lightly and leave to infuse for an hour.
Meanwhile, cut the celery into 3cm lengths and then into ½cm-wide batons. Blanch in water for 20 seconds, drain and leave to cool.
Heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan. Season the prawns and cook for a minute or so on each side, then transfer to a bowl.
Toss the batons and leaves of celery with enough of the dressing to just coat them and transfer to plates, adding the prawns; then serve.
Celery, Parmesan and tarragon risotto
Celery is the perfect vegetable for making a risotto: it's got loads of flavour and you can put it in from the beginning and it will be cooked perfectly by the time the rice is ready. You can add more celery if you wish depending on the size of the stems.
60ml olive or rapeseed oil
6-8 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy and cut into ½cm dice
150g carnaroli rice
1ltr hot vegetable stock
½tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
A few leaves of celery, chopped
60g freshly grated parmesan
Gently cook the diced celery for a few minutes in the olive oil, until soft. Add the rice and stir it well with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the hot stock a little at a time, stirring constantly and ensuring that each addition has been fully absorbed by the rice before adding the next.
When the rice is almost cooked, add the tarragon, celery leaves and parmesan; continue to cook until the rice is soft and plump (the risotto should be quite moist). Stir in the butter and serve.
Poached breast of chicken with celery
If you want a healthy and simple main course to cook at home, then this could be the one for you. The celery stock gives a great perfume and flavour to the dish and it's a great way to use up all the peelings and trimmings of celery.
4 free-range chicken breasts, skinned
The trimmings, peelings, etc from your head of celery, chopped
1ltr chicken stock; a good cube will do
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy and cut into ½cm dice
A handful of celery leaves
Put the celery trimmings in a saucepan with the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another pan. Put the chicken breasts in the stock, season and simmer for 7-8 minutes.
Next, transfer the breasts on to a plate and cover tightly with clingfilm to keep warm.
Continue simmering the stock until you have about 300-400ml left, add the diced celery and simmer for 5 minutes until tender, then add the leaves and remove from the heat.
To serve, place the chicken breasts in a pasta-type bowl and spoon over the broth.