Celery … have I ever written about celery? I don’t mean just mentioning celery as part of a mire poix, or diced in a shrimp salad. No, I’m actually wondering if I’ve ever focused my intense, brilliant, insightful intellect sharing the joys of celery with you, my faithful readers.
Let me remind y’all I have a memory like a colander. Short of looking through my vast store of previously published literary treasures, I’m just going to go for it! And by that, I mean an entire prose on the virtues of celery. You must be stoked—I know I am.
It’s well known that celery was first cultivated in the Mediterranean Basin some 3,000 years ago. In fact, celery is mentioned in The Iliad. I bet you remember when the Myrmidons’ horses were said to be grazing on celery in the marshes of Troy. You do remember that, right? Right!?
Those wacky ancient Romans were big celery fans. The celery hawkers at the Roman Colosseum weren’t selling celery as a Bloody Mary garnish, but as an aphrodisiac. “For some reason, amore mio, you are becoming more attractive with every stalk!”
Other members of the celery family include celeriac and our friend parsley. Yet none of these modern food superstars was widely utilized in the culinary world until the 16th century, when contemporary Italians began to eat celery as cheap food and not as a love potion. Celery was first mentioned in French and English cooking in the mid-17th-century. It eventually made its way to the U.S. in the 1850s, landing in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of all places. The green stalks proliferated so fast in Kalamazoo’s rich swampy soil, farmers coined the expression, “We got celery growing out the KalaWAZOO!”
Celery is mostly used as a flavor base in most modern cooking—its flavor profile of
grassy, slightly bitter, garden freshness brightens every dish. The French combine it with carrots and onions in mire poix. In Louisiana cooking, it’s used as part of the holy trinity, with green pepper and scallions, and in Asian cuisine, it bulks up stir-frys.
I still remember, in culinary school, carefully peeling celery, then tying the prepared stalks with a bouquet garni before slowly braising the bunch in chicken stock. Ca-lass-sic!
Yet I still like celery most as a crudité. You can call me a redneck, but buffalo wings with celery and bleu cheese are still among my favorite indulgences. The incredible moistness, the slight bitterness, along with the fresh garden taste truly offset the richness of the crispy, fatty, tongue-searing, spicy chicken wings. But what really puts the dish in my top 10 is the funkiness of the bleu cheese contrasting with the celery—call it funky/fresh. If you want to skip the wings, try this walnut-and-bleu-cheese dip with a few stalks of crisp, moist, green goodness.
Chef Bill’s Toasted Walnut & Gorgonzola Dolce Dip
• 1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 Tbsp. shallots, brunoised
• 1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar
• 1 Tbsp. honey
• 8 oz. gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
• 2 Tbsp. chopped tarragon, thyme & parsley
• Salt & pepper to taste
1. Put walnuts, sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, shallots and vinegar in a food processor. Pulse until walnuts and shallots are a rough texture.
2. Add herbs, honey and half the gorgonzola. Pulse until it has a uniform course texture.
3. Add remaining gorgonzola, pulse to a uniform chunky texture.
4. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt & pepper.