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The custom of using a celery stick as a garnish for a Bloody Mary supposedly originated at Chicago’s Ambassador East Hotel in the 1960s. As the story goes, an unnamed celebrity ordered a Bloody Mary. With no swizzle stick available to stir it, he grabbed a stalk of celery from a nearby relish tray and history was made.
Native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, celery was first used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a flavoring. The ancient Greeks also awarded winners of sporting events with a stock of celery. Marathon runners were often seen carrying it.
Did you know?
Did you know that more than 2 billion pounds of celery are grown each year in this country?
Did you know that, supposedly, it takes more calories to eat and digest celery than there is in the celery?
Did you know that celery seed, a popular seasoning, is not derived from the celery we all eat, but rather from its ancestor, called wild celery? It has a bitter taste and its stalks are stringier than cultivated-type celery.
Ever wonder what causes celery’s famous crunch? As your teeth bite down through the plant’s air-filled cells, it punctures them much like balloons, causing that familiar “crunch.”
Keep celery fresh and crisp
When buying celery, look for freshness and crispness. Choose ones that have a solid rigid feel and mostly green, fresh leaves that are only slightly wilted. Avoid celery with flabby upper branches or leaf stems.
Refrigerate celery in a plastic bag and place it in the crisper for up to two weeks. If the ribs become wilted, just remove the ribs and place them in a bowl of ice water for several minutes before using.
Separate celery ribs and rinse them thoroughly, as dirt can often be lodged between the ribs.
Celery Salad Dressing
2 cups celery cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup scallions (green onions) cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbsps. sugar
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsps. cider vinegar
3 Tbsps. water
In a blender, combine celery, scallions, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar and water; puree until smooth. Serve over sliced tomatoes, spinach or other salad greens, if desired. Can be made 24 hours before serving, covered and refrigerated. Stir before using. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
Old-Fashioned Celery Soup
2 heads of celery
2-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2-1/2 cups milk
1 medium onion
2 Tbsps. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove the leaves from the celery, wash thoroughly and cut into small pieces. Peel and chop the onion. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, add the onion and celery, and toss over medium/low heat for 5 minutes, but do not allow to brown. Add the stock, season with salt and pepper and simmer gently until the celery is quite soft.
Use a hand blender to blend-well or add soup to a counter blender for a few seconds; return soup to the saucepan. After blending, add the milk. Cook additional 5 minutes or until hot. Serve with croutons. Makes 4 servings.
Braised Celery with Swiss Cheese and Almonds
You can double or triple this recipe, depending on the size of your party.1-1/2 cups water
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
4 cups celery, cut into 2-inch-by-1/4-inch strips
3 slices processed Swiss cheese, cut into halves diagonally.
2 Tbsps. sliced almonds
In a large skillet, bring water and ground red pepper to a boil; add sliced celery. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until celery is tender, about five minutes; drain. Arrange celery in a shallow, 2-quart casserole.
Top with cheese and then sprinkle with almonds. Broil in oven about 3-4 inches from the heat, just until the cheese melts and almonds are golden, about 2 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Baked Celery Parmesan
4 cups diced celery
2-1/2 Tbsps. butter
2-1/2 Tbsps. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup milk
1 cup water in which celery was cooked
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the celery in boiling salted water until tender; drain, reserving one cup of liquid.
Prepare the cream sauce by stirring the breadcrumbs into the melted butter. Place 1/4 cupful of the buttered crumbs into the bottom of a baking dish and sprinkle half of the celery over them. Place another 1/4 cupful of the crumbs over the celery, and then sprinkle 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Add the remainder of the celery and pour in the reserved water. Add the remaining cheese and buttered crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees until heated through and the crumbs are browned. Serve hot. Makes 6 servings.
Celery Root Salad with Carrot Tops
This salad can be made up to an hour in advance and kept at room temperature. The celery root will soften slightly and become silkier.
1 lb. celery root
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsps. chopped carrot tops
1/4 tsp. salt
Peel the celery root and then cut in half. Then, cut each half in thin slices. Stack the slices and cut them into thin rectangular sticks; place in a mixing bowl.
Combine olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a blender and purée at high speed until emulsified, about 30 seconds. Add carrot tops and salt; purée until they are finely chopped and still visible in specks in the pale green dressing, about 30 seconds. Taste and salt to taste.
Pour the dressing over the celery root and stir gently to combine. The salad should be very lightly dressed, with flecks of green clinging to the celery root sticks. Transfer to a serving bowl. Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.