Celery, with its tender heart and lush foliage, is often not the star of the show. In this recipe, the stalks and flavorful leaves get top billing and offer a surprisingly and deeply satisfying dish. Look for celery with firm, green stalks and lots of large, tender leaves. Braised with tomato and mushroom until fork tender, this dish is many times versatile. Anchovies or crispy diced pancetta add deep flavor. Or, switch out the mushrooms for other seasonal vegetables; add a rind of Parmesan or some tapenade to flavor and thicken the broth. Change up the profile by adding in some hot Madras curry, turmeric and a bit of ginger or coconut milk.
Enjoy as is — it’s great hot at room temp or even chilled. Or try with rice, pasta, thick warm toast for dipping or serve as a base for grilled salmon, shrimp, or other protein that doesn’t mind sharing the plate with an unsung hero of the garden.
Braised celery and mushroom with tomato and harissa
2 bunches (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) 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 mushrooms, such as cremini, white button, or portobello, trimmed and cut into quarters or smaller for larger mushrooms
3 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste or other similar chile paste
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole or diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Optional garnishes: crispy diced pancetta; grated Parmesan or feta cheese; fresh herbs; tapenade
Remove celery leaves and reserve for garnish — if there’s enough, keep some for salad or pesto. Use a vegetable peeler to remove most of the strings from the outer layer of celery and cut into pieces about 2 inches long. Add oil, onion and mushrooms to a large pot set over medium heat. Let onions wilt, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. If using anchovies, let melt, one minute. Stir in harissa, garlic and tomatoes, crushing whole ones with your hands or a masher, their juice, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper, and stir to coat well.
Bring liquid to a boil and let cook, stirring occasionally, one minute. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and let cook 20 minutes. Uncover and stir, place cover partially on pot and let cook, stirring occasionally, another 30 to 45 minutes. Check celery, prodding with a fork. The longer the celery cooks, the more tender and sweet it becomes. If while cooking, the celery looks dry, add a few tablespoons water or broth. If pan juices seem thin and watery, uncover pot completely and increase heat to high and let boil a minute or two until liquid is thickened. If desired, add in a leftover bit of Parmesan rind or other preferred flavorings. Taste and add more salt or pepper, as needed. Stir in celery leaves and a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish, if desired, with Parmesan or other cheese, diced pancetta, fresh herbs, etc. Leftovers can be stored, in refrigerator, up to four days. Leftovers are great smeared on toast, or tossed into an omelet or used as a pasta sauce.