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ingredients and techniques

Building a Better Pantry: Celery Revisited

john's picture

Like many of us, for the longest time I knew of only one celery. It's the one you fill with peanut butter for an after-school snack, the one that has hardly any flavor and serves as a vehicle for dip on crudite platters across the nation. Rain or shine, the ubiquitous, large bunches of this celery cultivar go bad in refrigerators after one or two are used for stock, some jambalaya, or perhaps a batch of potato or chicken salad. Why? I think part of the reason is that more flavorful and herbacious varieties have been long forgotten by supermarkets and shoppers alike. These types actually get me excited about using celery the way most of us get excited over fresh basil, cilantro, oregano, or Italian parsley.

Collectively known as "leaf celery," these varieties are wonderful substitutes for the more common "self-blanching" behemoths we know and love: they add even more flavor to stock, mirepoix, and mayo-based salads. I'm sure they make for a good Bloody Mary garnish too. Since they are round and fairly thin, forget the crudite uses. These types are well-known in Europe and China (Chinese Celery is probably the most widely-available... check your nearest Asian grocer) and, as one might guess from the name, they have an abundance of tasty leaves that work wonderfully as a last-minute seasoning--raw or cooked. Most varieties of leaf celery grow to be slightly shorter (about twelve inches) and are a deeper hue of green (or, in some cases, red).

We have found the variety pictured above (French Dinant) at our local farmer's market for the last few weeks and have added the leaves to salsa, pasta sauce, stir-fries, tomato salads, and anything else we can think of where basil, oregano, cilantro, or parsley can either be replaced or supplemented. I think the next step for us is going to be celery-cilantro Chimichurri (find a base recipe in our Steak on the Coals blog). For a quick and easy demonstration of how delicious these leaves are, check out this favorite staple snack.

In keeping with our recent blogs on putting up tomatoes, here's a dead-simple, 5-minute method for making your own Celery Salt:

- Wash the celery and trim all of the leaves off, reserve the stalks for another use
- Dry out the leaves by microwaving them on a paper towel one minute at a time until they're crunchy
- Give them a whiz in a spice or coffee grinder until they're not quite powder
- Add to a quantity of kosher salt

I haven't listed any quantities because the ratio of salt to celery is completely up to you. As a rough guide, the batch pictured above required a single, sparse layer of leaves on a dinner plate and about 1/2 cup kosher salt. My advice: once you grind up the dessicated leaves, just add salt and mix until you think it's enough. I wanted mine potent and vegetal, so I added less than some might be inclined to. House guests take note: this makes for a fine gift.

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Begin by making the dough the night before you want to bake the pizzas. Combine in a large bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
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