Celery seems to have been left out of the current vegetable love fest. For awhile, kale was the primary object of all the affection. This year it’s Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. But celery? No love.
Here’s the thing: we all have a bag of celery in our fridge. And maybe that’s the problem. Supermarket celery, with its pale stalks and lopped off tops ~ not a leaf in sight ~ is nothing like real celery, the kind you grow in your garden or find at the farmers’ market.
I bought this bunch of celery at the Twin Springs Fruit Farm stall at my local market. It is everything celery should be: crunchy and succulent, with an assertive ~ almost bracing ~ flavor. So much flavor. Those leaf tops! Chopped up, they make a wonderful base, along with carrots and onions, for soups, sauces and stews. You can also toss the leaves into salad ~ lettuce salad or, say, potato salad ~ or use them as a garnish, especially for fish (if you like poached fish, put the leaves in your poaching broth).
I used some of this bunch to make my annual batch of giardiniera. The rest I turned into vellutata di sedano ~ cream of celery soup. I made it in the classic Italian style, with a little carrot and onion, plus a potato for body, and good broth. I had homemade mascarpone on hand, so I stirred in a dollop for added richness. I pureed the soup using an immersion blender. You can strain it through a fine-mesh sieve for a smoother texture.
This is a good first-course soup. I can’t emphasize enough how good it is. It is filled with the flavor of celery ~ deep and savory, assertive and yet somewhat mellowed from the cooking. Real celery. Follow this soup with poached or roasted fish, roast chicken, or a frittata. Or, dare I say, roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day. It’s definitely good enough to grace the holiday table. And that, IMHO, is where celery belongs.
Make this comforting soup in autumn, when you can find fresh celery at the farmers' market. It makes a big difference. Use some of the leafy tops in the soup and use the rest to flavor broths, sauces and stews, and to put in winter salads. I added a dollop of mascarpone cheese to enrich this soup, but you can use heavy cream or even whole milk. For a lighter version, just leave out the dairy.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, cut into rounds
- 1 small russet potato, diced
- 1 bunch celery, chopped, including some of the tops and leaves
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, more if necessary
- 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese or heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus a few leaves for garnish
- Celery leaves for garnish
- Homemade croutons for serving (optional; see NOTE)
In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter in the oil over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the onion, carrot, and potato. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the carrot is bright orange.
Add the celery to the pot, along with 1/2 cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook without browning (reduce heat to low if necessary) until all the vegetables are tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Pour in 1 cup of broth, cover, and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. All the vegetables must be soft. Poke a few of the larger pieces with a fork to make sure. Remove from the heat.
Use an immersion blender or a standard blender to puree the vegetables, adding more broth as necessary. Return the pot to the heat and stir in the mascarpone or cream. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and add more broth if you like to thin out the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt or pepper. Sprinkle in the parsley and remove from the heat.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley and celery leaves. Top with croutons.
NOTE: To make homemade croutons: Cut bread into bite-sized cubes and toss with extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. Spread the bread cubes out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes, tossing them once or twice during that time, until they are nicely browned and crisped.