Celery, with its tender heart and lush foliage, is often not the star of the show. In this recipe, the savory stems and leaves take center stage and provide a surprisingly and deeply satisfying dish. Look for celery with firm, green stems and lots of large, tender leaves. Braised with tomatoes and mushrooms until fork-tender, this dish is many times versatile. Crispy diced anchovies or pancetta add a deep flavor. Or replace the mushrooms with other seasonal vegetables; add a zest of Parmesan or some tapenade to flavor and thicken the broth. Change the profile by adding hot Madras curry, turmeric and a little ginger or coconut milk.
Enjoy as is – it’s super hot at room temperature or even chilled. Or try it with rice, pasta, thick warm toast for dipping, or serve as a staple for grilled salmon, shrimp, or other protein who doesn’t mind sharing the plate with an unsung hero of the garden.
Celery and mushrooms braised with tomato and harissa
2 florets (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) of celery with large, abundant leaves, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 small onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 pound of mushrooms, such as cremini, white button or portobello, trimmed and cut into quarters or smaller for larger mushrooms
3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons of harissa paste or other similar chili paste
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 can (28 ounces) whole or diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Optional Toppings: Crispy Diced Pancetta; grated parmesan or feta cheese; fresh herbs; Tapenade
Remove the celery leaves and set aside for garnish – if there is enough, save some for salad or pesto. Use a peeler to remove most of the strings from the outer layer of celery and cut them into pieces about 2 inches long. Add the oil, onion and mushrooms to a large saucepan over medium heat. Let the onions wilt, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. If you are using anchovies, let melt for a minute. Stir in the harissa, garlic and tomatoes, crush them whole with your hands or a potato masher, their juice, celery, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed black pepper, and stir to coat well.
Bring the liquid to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for one minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and stir, place the lid partially on the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 30 to 45 minutes. Check the celery by pushing it with a fork. The longer the celery cooks, the softer and sweeter it becomes. If during cooking the celery seems dry, add a few tablespoons of water or broth. If the cooking juices seem runny and runny, uncover the pan completely and turn the heat up to high and let it boil for a minute or two until the liquid thickens. If you like, add some leftover Parmesan zest or other favorite flavorings. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed. Stir in the celery leaves and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.
Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish, if desired, with Parmesan or other cheese, diced pancetta, fresh herbs, etc. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days. Leftovers are excellent spread on toast, or tossed in an omelet or used as a pasta sauce.