Braised Celery with Crunchy Bread Crumb Topping

Braised Celery with Crunchy Bread Crumb Topping Recipe


Loud claps of thunder are setting off car alarms up and down the block, and black clouds are spitting rain at the pavement so hard it's doing its best to bounce right back up. I've been waiting for the perfect day to write about this book, and today is the day - rainy, dark, cold and nasty. This is prime braising season, and Molly Steven's All About Braising is the bible. This is the perfect book to pull off the shelf when you are looking for hearty, slow-cooked, richly-flavored inspiration.

I met Molly last year at the IACP Conference in Dallas when a bit of fairy dust and the spelling of our last names put us in the same place at the same time. She is an ST (Stevens), and I am a SW (Swanson) - we were signing books along with what seemed like 100 other authors at the IACP cookbook expo. Each author shares a table with one other person and because of the ST/SW connection, for a couple of hours Molly and I shared a card table, two fold-up chairs, and a stream of get-to-know-you stories.

Later that night Molly went on to win the IACP award for Best Single Subject Cookbook, and followed that up with the award for Best Single Subject Cookbook from the James Beard Foundation later in the year. It has been fun to root her on from afar.

You are likely familiar with the technique of braising, even if you don't know it. Braising is a cooking method that uses low temperatures and lengthy cooking times to cook food in a closed vessel or pot. Many people associate braising exclusively with meats - dishes like osso buco or coq au vin, but there are many delicious, classic, braised vegetable dishes as well. Molly includes a robust vegetable chapter in All About Braising. This closed-and-sealed pot technique gives you a depth of flavor and texture that you just can't get with any other cooking method - it is almost as if the food is immersed in a self-marinating shower cycle inside the pot throughout the entire cooking duration.

View of Duboce park from my office window.

Molly's book is treasure chest of one-pot meals - perfect for lazy, cold-weather days like today. I made the Braised Celery, which shows you a tasty new way to approach celery. You take a dish of celery segments topped with a dose of sauteed aromatics (celery hearts, shallots, and thyme), and a bit of broth. Slowly cook it all down under a roof of tinfoil until it is nice, moist, and tender - then finish it off gratin-style with crunchy bread crumbs and a bit of nutty gruyere. Next on my list is Molly's Red Cabbage Braised with Maple & Ginger, you can get it from her website if you want to give it a try (scroll to bottom).

 
 
 
 

Braised Celery with Crunchy Bread Crumb Topping

Heidi note: do your best to get all the strings out of the celery - or else you will end up with tender celery streaked with strong, stringy fibers.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 head celery (about 1 3/4 pounds)

1 large shallot or 1 small yellow onion, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

1 cup chicken stock, homemade (page 448) or store-bought (hs note: I used a veg. stock)

1/3 cup freshly grated Gruyere, or half Gruyere and half Parmigiano-Reggiano

3 to 4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs made from day-old rustic white bread

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Using about half the butter, generously butter a large gratin dish or baking dish (9- to 10-by-13- to 14-inch).

2. Washing and trimming the celery: Tear the celery stalks from the head. You should have about 10 or 12 sturdy outer stalks. Stop tearing off the stalks when you reach the shorter, pale, tender stalks, or the heart. Set it aside. Rinse the celery stalks, giving special attention to the inside of the base of each stalk, where dirt tends to lodge. You may need a vegetable scrubber to remove stubborn dirt. Trim off the top part of the stalk where it branches into leaves, and set the tops aside with the heart. Using a small paring knife or vegetable peeler, scrape the outside of each celery stalk to remove the fibrous strings that run its length. Cut the stalks into 3- to 4-inch lengths. Arrange them in a layer in the baking dish. It's fine if the sticks overlap some; they will shrink and flatten into a single layer as they braise.

3. The aromatics: Finely chop the reserved celery heart, with the celery tops and leaves. Melt the remaining butter in a medium skillet (IO-inch) over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, thyme, and chopped celery heart and leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half, another 6 minutes or so.

4. The braise: Pour the celery-shallot-stock mixture over the celery sticks. Cover with foil and slide into the middle of the oven to braise until the celery has collapsed and feels very tender when prodded with a knife tip, about I hour and 15 minutes.

5. The finish: Remove the celery from the oven, and increase the oven heat to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the celery, and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and the top is crusty and browned, about 10 more minutes. Serve hot
or warm.

Serves 4 I Braising Time: about 1 1/2 hours.

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Your Comments


fanny
December 19, 2005

Heidi, this looks like real rich comfort food. And with the ice cold weather i'm craving for this type of food.
Thanx for making me discover a new way of cooking celery.

xoxo
Fanny

 

vici
December 19, 2005

While it is raining there, it is snowing next door in Nevada...
Ever since I made "A Herb and Barley Broth to Bring You Back to Health" ...from Nigel Slater's "Kitchen Diaries", I have been thinking about braising vegetables. This "broth" was a soup, baked in the oven. The idea had never occured to me before. Leeks, Carrots, Celery, Onion, Garlic and Potatoes... The scent coming from the oven was amazing! It smelled like meat roasting! So, braising vegetables ... definately worthwhile. Thanks for introducing the book... By the way, "Cookbook Expo"? How do we get invited?...v

 

Molly
December 19, 2005

Heidi, I'm so glad to see someone giving celery its due! I have tried to win several friends over to the ways of braised celery, but I think my simple little method--using only celery, olive oil, broth, and fresh dill, from the cookbook Real Good Food--was a bit too bare-bones. This recipe, what with that crumb topping, sounds like just the thing. I can't wait to try it. Thank you!

 

Ivonne
December 20, 2005

Hi Heidi,

Congratulations on your lovely site! I'm a frequent visitor, but this is my first time commenting.

I too have Molly's book and I have yet to take it off the shelf! Shame on me!

But your post about the braised celery recipe has enticed me to start cooking from this book immediately!

Thanks.

Ivonne
:o)

 

bea
December 21, 2005

Hi Heidi,

This looks very good. Interesting to see recipes using celery stalks like this. I love the taste of celery in soups, when I make pasta sauces. In France we also use celeriac a lot, which I know is not a favorite vegetable for many people. Delicious!

 

jayashree
December 21, 2005

Thanks for nice listing of cookbooks.
Living in India, it is not easy to to know what new books come out overseas.
I have been able to get a few, because of your list.
When you have chance, buy Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Good book for anyone wanting to cook Indian food. Easy recipes, simple home style dishes gorgeous photos.
Wish you great new year and much success in life and this site.
Thanks!

 

Mark
December 21, 2005

I love to cook, but I work quite a bit. My wife takes care of the kids and house and unfortunately hates to cook. Anyone have any advice that might help me get her interested in cooking? Her mother was a southern cook so her exposure to gourmet sp? foods was very limited as was her cooking education. Help.

 

Lori
December 22, 2005

I am another long-time reader of your site, this is my first comment. Thank you for the gorgeous photographs on your site, I often go through the archives just looking for the pictures. I often take photos of my homebaking (for posterity, not publication) and wonder how you achieve those beautiful backdrops, such as the blue one for the Apple Coffee Cake. Are they digital or 'real'?
Thanks!

 

Heidi
December 22, 2005

Mark,
My dad was always the big cook in our family growing up (fortunately for my sister and I, he was also the king of dishwashing)...my mom was never really that into cooking, but she did latch onto a couple things that my dad could assign out to her...namely, salads.

Maybe for starters give your wife one slice of a meal to focus on, salads or a side dish. Things that aren't totally overwhelming. That will take a little bit of the load off you, and can encourage her to play around a bit for starters...good luck. Some people just don't like to cook.

Lori, thanks for the nice words about the photos. They are all 'real'....they are digital, but I don't do any post-processing really. I know I've said it before, but I've been meaning to do a little food photography primer for those of you who are interested in it...maybe in the new year? -h

 

blintz
December 31, 2005

fennel and endive, too.....?????????