I get a head of celery every week in my organic vegetable box - a habit which began years ago.
And I juice a couple of sticks a day, together with a carrot, an apple, a lemon and some grapes, for health.
However, this daily juicing still leaves behind a store of celery, which I then have to find ways to use up.
Admittedly a versatile vegetable, I add a couple of stalks to the pot whenever I make a stock. I also add it to stir-fries (it's lovely with prawns and chilli paste); toss it, chopped finely, into fried rice for a fresh crunch and, yes, eat it raw in a salad.
Children also love it filled with peanut or almond butter, making it a protein-rich snack.
However, I wanted another way with celery - cooked - as I am tired of eating it raw. Remembering what a friend did once with celery, I decided to braise it in the oven with a stock.
It is a one-step dish which takes little effort: just some stock poured over lengths of celery sticks, baked in the oven, until they turn out amazingly delicious and sweetly tender.
You see, the longer you braise celery, the sweeter and softer it becomes.
After braising, the vegetable would have taken on the flavours of the stock - a simple chicken stock - and emerge unlike its usual crunchy self.
It would be so soft even a child would eat it.
While some recipes recommend browning the vegetable first in butter in a pan, I wanted a clean-tasting dish and decided to omit that step.
For a final flourish, I added a crisp breadcrumb topping to the vegetable.
I had heard about pangretto before.
They are seasoned breadcrumbs which are often dubbed the poor man's parmesan.
The Italians toss it, instead of cheese, over pasta or risotto and it gives an added dimension to the dish - some crunch and lots of flavour.
It would bring another level of taste and texture to my braised celery.
You can make this topping as and when you need it or you can whiz up a store and keep it in the refrigerator for use whenever you need it.
It is useful as a dressing over vegetables or carbohydrates, which is how the Italians use it.
What you do is to blitz a few slices of bread, garlic and lemon zest in a food processor and crisp the mixture in a pan over low heat.
The pangretto will add a burst of flavour to a basically quiet yet delectable dish.
Aside from its usefulness and taste, celery is also one of the so-called "superfoods".
Among its many healthy properties is vitamin A, which supports a strong immune system, promotes healthy eyesight and helps maintain the function of the heart, lungs and kidneys.
I consume it regularly, not only because of its fibre, but also because of compounds which can help reduce the damage caused by free radicals - substances which can cause chronic health problems.
Including celery in a daily diet might also lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.
That is why I will continue to have celery in my organic vegetable box, despite my weekly headache of trying to use it up.
Braising it, however, will go a long way to easing that problem, as it then becomes easy to eat.
Braised celery with pangretto (Serves four)
- 1 head celery, trimmed
- 1-2 cups chicken stock, either store-bought or homemade
- ¼ cup white wine, optional
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 or 2 dried chillies, optional
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4-5 slices rustic bread, stale if possible, cut into chunks
- Olive oil
- Heat the oven to 180 deg C.
- Trim the celery sticks by cutting off the tough ends and pulling off the strings along the length of the vegetable. Wash off the dirt at the bottom of the stalks and make sure all the dirt is removed.
- Pluck off the leaves for another use, cut the trimmed celery sticks into 10cm lengths and place them lengthwise in a pan.
- Pour about a cup of chicken stock and wine into the pan.
- Bake in the oven, covered, until the vegetable is soft when pierced with a knife. This takes about an hour. If the pan dries out, add a bit more stock.
- In the meantime, blitz the lemon zest, dried chilli, garlic and bread chunks in a food processor until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
- Heat a frying pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the bread mixture in the oil until crisp and cool it on a piece of kitchen paper to drain away the excess oil.
- When the celery is ready, add a sprinkling of pangretto and serve.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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