Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Older and wiser

The wedding feast was magnificent. The main dish was a baron of beef carried in on the shoulders of four burly cooks to the delighted surprise of the guests, at a hotel well known for its fine food in beautiful surroundings. So imagine the dismay on the face of the chef when the bride refused the braised celery hearts offered as part of the carefully composed vegetable dishes. I was that bride, but as the years have passed, I have not only learned to enjoy celery, but also regard it as an essential vegetable in a well-stocked fridge.

Valued from Ancient Greece through the European Middle Ages for its medicinal qualities, celery was believed to treat ailments from rheumatism and gout to anxiety, insomnia and toothache. More recently, research carried out in the USA in 2008 indicates that celery contains flavonoids that could help combat Alzheimer’s.

And talking of the more mature, computer-shy older people in the USA are using celery to Twitter. ‘Celery’ is a service set up to help older family and friends without computers to stay in touch with those who do. Hand-written outgoing messages and photographs are converted into email, Facebook status updates, or tweets that are transmitted via fax on a standard telephone line. So why Celery? Says founder Neil Grabowsky, "It plays off the unrelated Latin word celeritas, which means speed; because we bring ‘snail mail’ up to speed."
How to keep and use
Celery is one of the most useful and easy-going vegetables to keep. Wrapped in a piece of kitchen roll, letting its top and toes breathe, it stays fresh and crisp for two weeks or more. Here are some ways in which it can be used.
Take one…
celery stick from the outside of the head, cut into two or three pieces and keeping its feathery leaves, add to the pot when making stock from the carcass of a chicken or roasted meat bones.
Take two…
celery sticks to create a vegetable dish to make a simple meal special. Slice the celery thinly and sauté gently with a finely chopped shallot or small onion, in a generous knob of butter in a covered pan. Meanwhile shred finely the best bits of three or four lettuce leaves from the outside of the head (the ones not nice enough for the salad bowl) and when the celery and onions are soft and golden, add to the pan with a tablespoon of water and a cup of frozen peas. Season with salt and pepper and cook gently, still covered, until the lettuce has wilted down and the peas are just cooked (around five minutes). Remove the lid and if necessary reduce the butter juices so that they just coat the vegetables rather than drown them, and season.
Take three…
celery sticks for a Waldorf style salad to serve with pate or cold meats for a light lunch. Chop into smallish dice and mix with one or two peeled and diced crisp apples, two or three finely sliced spring onions. Toss in a dressing made with 1 tablespoon french dressing mixed with 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise and a teaspoon of creamed horseradish sauce. Brown a handful of cashews or pine kernels in a very hot and ungreased frypan or skillet (don’t wander off whilst doing this) shaking them around to ensure even colouring and then tip into the celery mixture whilst still hot – creating a satisfying sizzle and aroma.
Cashews or pine kernels or even peanuts are much nicer than traditional walnuts, which can be very bitter, and the horseradish gives a refreshing kick.

Or take a whole celery head …
if you have a jar of preserved lemons adorning your kitchen counter and make Moro’s fragrant, warm celery salad. Wash the celery sticks, stringing the tougher stalks if necessary, and cut into 1cm slices. Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add a thinly sliced clove of garlic and the thinly sliced skin only of half a preserved lemon, (having discarded the soft pulp and rinsing the skin well in cold water). Fry for 30 seconds then add the celery and cook gently for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the celery begins to soften, add 100ml of water and cook for a further five minutes or until the liquid has almost evaporated. Add 1 tablespoon of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm or cool.

No comments:

Post a Comment