Thursday, January 14, 2010

Braised Celery, Not an Entree

Braised celery is not the perfect dish to serve as an entree, even if you are tired and your husband is not that hungry.

Trust me. It may be delicious, but it looks lousy all by its lonesome on the plate with nothing to keep it company but a bowl of leftover carrot soup.

I tried to pull this off, and it is not a good idea.

The celery was going to be a side for some lamb chops, and that would have been a hit. I just didn't realize that I would be moving so slowly and that Molly Steven's dish from
All About Braising would take so long. Occasionally, I forget to read all the way to the end of the recipe...

Ah ha! The celery cooks for an hour and fifteen minutes!

So I short-changed the cooking time by about fifteen minutes. Sometimes I get sloppy and desperate at the end of the night. Be forewarned! I believe the fifteen minutes, and better stringing of the celery, would have made all the difference.

I also thought I had been so thorough with my handy paring knife. Nope. Next time –– and there will be a next time, because this dish is good –– I will use a peeler and get all of the fibrous strings off of those stalks. There is always so much to learn, even about something as basic and undervalued as celery.

Just a quick note. Molly Stevens is amazing and her book, All About Braising, is one of the books I use the most regularly with the most confidence. If you don't already own this book, please drop everything and pick up a copy.

Winter is the perfect time to start a relationship of this sort.

Braised Celery with Crunchy Bread Crumb Topping

2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 head celery (about 1 3/4 pounds)
1 large shallot or 1 small onion finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
kosher salt and ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup grated Gruyere
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs made from day-old bread

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a large gratin or baking dish using half of the butter.

Wash and trim the celery . Tear the stalks from the head. you will need 10 to 12 large outer stalks. When you reach the tender stalks of the heart, stop tearing. Reserve the heart. Rinse the stalks thoroughly. Trim off the top part of each stalk where it branches into leaves. Set the tops aside with the heart. Using a vegetable peeler, thoroughly scrape away the outside of each stalk to remove all the fibrous strings. Cut the stalks into 4-inch lengths. Arrange the the celery in a single layer in the baking dish. Some overlapping is okay.

Finely chop the reserved celery and leaves. Melt the remaining butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, thyme, and chopped celery heart and leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half, not more, about another 4 to 6 minutes.

Pour the celery-shallot mixture over the celery stalks. Cover with foil and place in the middle of the oven for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The celery should have collapse and feel very tender when prodded with a knife.

Remove the celery from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the celery and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and top is crusty and brown, about 10 minutes more.

Serve hot or warm.

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