General Description: Celery (Apium graveolens) is a green-stalked plant in the Umbelliferae family. Wild celery is a common plant in Europe and Asia and has been used since ancient times. It is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey as selinon, from which we derive the modern name. Celery was used originally as a seasoning because it was quite bitter. The practice of earthing up the growing plant results in milder celery; this practice started in the 16th century, probably in Italy. Celery exists in three forms—a wild plant with thin, hollow stalks; common celery with thick, solid, pale green stems; and celeriac, an enlarged bumpy knob ranging from 2 to 6 inches in diameter.
Leaf celery (Apium graveolens secalinum_) is dark green and closely related to wild celery. It is used in France and Italy as an aromatic to flavor soups and stews. Pascal green celery (_Apium grareolens dulce) is the standard green celery variety for the fall market. “Celery hearts” are simply the inner, more mild-flavored, and almost stringless hearts of standard celery, and they are more expensive. Blanched celery is a regional specialty of the Pennsylvania Dutch that has a more delicate flavor and none of the bitter aftertaste of deep green celery. In Britain, special varieties of Pascal celery that have long white, pink, or red stems are grown in trenches out of sunlight.
Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum), also called celery root, turnip-rooted celery, and knob celery, has a long history and was used by Arabs as a delicacy by the 16th century. It has a delicate celery flavor and solid, fibrous flesh.
The Chinese, who have used wild celery since as early as the 5th century A.D., independently developed cultivated varieties of celery. Chinese celery, called kintsai or heung kunn, has thin, hollow, and juicy stalks with a strong flavor. It should be picked young.
Season: Pascal celery may be found year-round. Blanched celery is a specialty that can be found in late fall in some areas. Celeriac is in season from November through April.
Purchase: Look for celery with straight stalks and rigid ribs that snap crisply when bent. Their inside surface should be clean and smooth. The leaves should be fresh and well colored, with no sign of wilting. Opt for large, relatively smooth, and uniform celeriac knobs for less waste. The leaf tops should be lively and green, never slimy.
Avoid: Celery that is overly large with dark green stalks may be bitter or stringy. Avoid small celeriac. With its thick peel, there won’t be much left.
Storage: Keep celery and celeriac in a perforated bag and refrigerate in the crisper for up to 1 week. Celery will freeze in a colder section of the refrigerator.
- Cut off the base of the bunch of celery and discard, or wash it and save it for soup stock.
- Separate the individual stalks and wash, being especially careful at the base, which collects dirt.
- Cut off the tops below the joint, which will be tough.
- Discard darker green leaves. You may use the mild inner yellow-green leaves.
- To remove strings (only necessary on large outer stalks), bend back and snap a rib of celery at the point where the stalk changes color from green to white. The strings will be exposed and can be gently pulled off the stalk.
- Cut off the top and a thin slice of the base.
- Pare away the tough outer skin with a knife.
- Drop immediately into cold water so the bare root doesn’t oxidize.
- Cook either whole or cut up in water with lemon juice until tender to the core when pierced.
Serving Suggestions: Stuff raw celery stalks with mashed Roquefort or other blue cheese. Combine equal amounts diced celery, unpeeled red apples, chopped walnuts, and cooked chicken or turkey (if desired), then dress with mayonnaise to make Waldorf salad. Make celeriac mashed potatoes by mashing together 2 parts cooked potatoes to 1 part cooked celeriac.
Flavor Affinities: Celery: blue cheese, butter, chicken soup, fish, Gruyère and other mountain cheeses, poultry, shellfish. Celeriac: apples, cream, game birds, mayonnaise, mustard, potatoes, roast beef, veal, or chicken, truffles.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com