We tend to underuse celery. We might shove it in a green salad, or pair it with a bit of cheese, and for many of us that's about it. But it actually adds wonderful flavour and texture to a host of fine dishes, and can be a key ingredient in soups, stocks and sauces.
Normal celery is of course fine in these recipes, but better still, while it's in season, is Fenland celery. You may not have come across this before but I urge you to seek it out. With its nutty taste and tender, crisp bite, it is highly prized and has even been awarded protected regional status by the European Commission – one of only a small handful of English fruits and vegetables to receive the accolade.
Give celery a wash and store it in a ziplock bag, so it stays nice and fresh and doesn't just sit there and go limp.
Double celery and oxtail soup
Vegetable oil for roasting
500g oxtail, cut into joints and trimmed of fat
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp flour for dusting
½tbsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
6 black peppercorns
2½ ltrs beef stock
2-3 sticks of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into rough 1cm dice
1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into rough 1cm dice
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Heat some oil in a roasting tray and add the pieces of oxtail and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper then roast for about 25-30 minutes until they are beginning to colour. Add the flour and tomato purée, stir well and return to the oven for another 20 minutes, giving the occasional stir.
Transfer the oxtail and vegetables to a thick-bottomed pan and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer with a lid on for about 2-2½ hours, or until the oxtail is beginning to fall off the bone. Or you could cut the time in half with a pressure cooker.
Place a colander over a bowl large enough to catch all of the cooking liquor. Pour the meat, vegetables and liquor carefully into the colander and leave to drain and cool for 15-20 minutes.
Carefully remove the meat from the bones with your hands, and put to one side. Discard the bones and vegetables and strain the liquor through a fine meshed sieve. The liquor should be quite an intense flavour and be just enough for four or so people. If not, skim any excess fat off with a ladle and simmer until it has reduced and intensified. Add the celery and celeriac and simmer for about 10 minutes until they are tender, then add the pieces of meat and season if necessary.
Advance cooking tip: you can make the basic broth without adding the celery a few days in advance, or even make a bigger batch and freeze it, then simply add the celery and celeriac when serving.
Fish with celery sauce
Celery, like fennel, makes a great partner to fish, and it's a bit more neutral compared to the aniseed flavour of fennel. You can use any fish you fancy. It would work well with a piece of halibut on the bone or a simple fillet of sea bass or cod, and would even go well with a salmon fillet. If you have a nice head of leafy celery then chop a few leaves into the sauce as well.
2 sticks of celery, peeled if particularly stringy, and cut
2 small shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
100-150ml fish stock
180g chilled unsalted butter, diced
4 portions of fish of your choice
1tbsp double cream
A little butter or olive oil for cooking
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Lemon juice (optional)
Put the celery and shallots in a pan with the wine and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer and reduce until there is just about a tablespoon of the liquid left. Add the cream, bring back to the boil, and remove from the heat. Whisk in the butter until the sauce is emulsified. Season to taste and add a squeeze of lemon. Cover with a lid to keep it warm.
Meanwhile season your fish, heat a little butter or olive oil or both in a preferably non-stick pan, then cook your fish, depending on the thickness, for a couple minutes on each side on a medium heat, keeping it nice and moist and not colouring it too much.
Serve with the sauce spooned over the fish or separately in a sauce boat.
Celery salad with Dorset Blue Vinney
This is a nice simple salad with an interesting textural balance from mixing blanched celery with raw leaves. It works well as a starter or you can even serve smaller portions as a cheese course. If you can't get hold of blue vinney then stilton is a good alternative.
4 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy
A handful or so of celery leaves
120-150g blue vinney, placed in the freezer for an hour or so before serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
1tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp rapeseed oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Cut half the celery into 1cm-thick slices on the angle, and blanch for a minute in boiling salted water. Drain and leave to cool. Cut the other two sticks of celery into three and with a peeler or mandolin, thinly shave them and put them into icy cold water with the celery leaves.
For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together and season. Arrange the blanched and shaved celery and the leaves on serving plates, season and spoon over the dressing then grate the frozen blue cheese on top.
Celery hearts with air-dried Cumbrian ham
Woodall's air-dried Cumbrian ham is a fantastic and relatively new find for me, and it now appears on my menus on a regular basis. The cooked celery hearts gives a gentle counterbalance to the saltiness of the ham.
1 celery heart, plus a few leaves
500ml vegetable or chicken stock or a good stock cube
8-12 slices of air-dried ham
Salt and freshly ground
A little sherry vinegar
Cook the celery hearts in the chicken stock for about 20-25 minutes until tender, then leave in the stock to cool.
To serve, quarter the celery hearts and arrange them on a serving dish. Season lightly and sprinkle a little vinegar over, then lay the ham on top.
If you wish, you can cook the celery hearts the day before and just leave them in the stock at room temperature.
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