A great side dish to accompany, well . . . anything
Never tasted Braised Celery? Well, you’re in for a treat. Because braising makes celery tender and sweet, revealing new depths of this often-overlooked veggie.
For this recipe, we cook celery in tomatoes (marinara sauce, actually), then finish it with a layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We end up with a dish that’s almost a gratin, but not quite.
Braised Celery makes a perfect sidekick for grilled/roasted meat, fish, or poultry. Or anything, really. And its flavor is lip-smacking good. So this might be the perfect time to wear your “Kiss the Cook” apron.
Recipe: Braised Celery with Tomato and Parmesan
Braising involves cooking food slowly in a bit of liquid (using the oven, in this case). There are many recipes for braising celery, ranging from very simple (e.g., cooking in concentrated chicken stock) to lengthy and elaborate (with lots of additional ingredients required). The recipe I discuss here is fairly straightforward. It does include a few “extra” ingredients, but it still allows the flavor of the celery to stand out.
This recipe is adapted from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.
Prep time for this dish is about 10 minutes, with additional total cooking time of about an hour. (This recipe directs you to make a marinara sauce for braising the celery. If you want to use pre-made marinara—or another tomato sauce—see the Notes).
This dish yields 4 to 6 side dish-sized servings. Leftovers keep well for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- ~6 celery ribs (enough to fill your baking dish in a single layer; see Step 5), plus celery leaves
- 3 garlic cloves (or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- salt to taste (for me, this means a few big pinches of kosher salt)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (maybe 6 grinds)
- ~2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about a cup, packed)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Clean the celery ribs, peel the stringy fibers on the convex side, and cut them into 4-inch-long pieces. Reserve some celery leaves.
- Peel the garlic and slice or dice it finely.
- Heat a 2-quart saucepan on top of the stove. When the pan is heated, add olive oil. When the oil is hot (this will take perhaps 15 seconds—it’ll shimmer), add the sliced/diced garlic.
- Sauté the garlic for about a minute and a half. Then add the reserved celery leaves and continue sautéing for another 30 seconds or so (a total of 2 minutes altogether). Add the red pepper flakes and diced tomatoes. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes (until the sauce has thickened slightly). If the mixture is too chunky for your taste, you can break it up a bit with an immersion blender (use one with a metal shaft—see Notes for why). Add salt and black pepper to taste. At this point, you’ve made a basic marinara sauce (see Notes if you’d like to substitute another sauce).
- Spread half the marinara sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish or gratin pan just big enough to hold the celery (I use an 11-inch gratin pan). Add the celery, hollow side up; try not to overlap the pieces (though a little overlap is OK). Cover the celery with the rest of the sauce. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and set a timer for 35 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- At the 35-minute mark, test to see if the celery is tender (the tip of a paring knife should slide into the celery effortlessly). If you used the inner ribs of the celery head, the celery probably will be tender at this point; if you used the outer ribs, it usually won’t be. Continue baking until the celery is tender—mine usually takes 45 minutes.
- When the celery is tender, remove the aluminum foil from the baking dish. Spread the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the top. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and bubbly—and has browned just a little (or a lot, if you prefer). After you remove the Braised Celery from the oven, let it sit for at least 5 minutes before serving to give the juices a chance to settle.
- As noted above, this recipe includes instructions for making a quick marinara sauce (Steps 2 – 4). But if you prefer, you could substitute a pre-made marinara sauce (homemade or store bought) that you already have on hand. Or use another Italian-style tomato sauce. Do note that unless you heat the pre-made sauce before assembling the dish (Step 5), total cooking time will be a bit longer.
- I strongly suggest that you use high-quality imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for this dish (rather than a domestic version produced in the US). It’s worth the expense to use the real stuff.
- When using an immersion blender in hot liquid, make sure to use one with a metal shaft. A plastic shaft can crack from the heat. Guess how I know.
- You can assemble this dish (without the cheese) ahead of time, and then just cook it in the oven for an hour or so before serving. To assemble ahead of time: Make the marinara sauce and allow it to cool. Then assemble the dish (Step 5), using a baking dish that’s safe to chill and then heat in the oven. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and refrigerate. When you’re ready to finish cooking, preheat the oven and grate the cheese. Then cook the covered dish as you normally would (Steps 7 and 8), adding at least 10 extra minutes of braising time since the chilled ingredients will need time to reheat.
Remember—It Goes Well with Anything
“I never knew there were so many ways to use celery,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Yup,” I said. “In addition to this dish, there’s that terrific Italian Celery and Mushroom Salad we did on the blog last week.”
“And don't forget that great Celery, Corn, and Bacon Chowder,” said Mrs K R.
“That’s a hearty one,” I said. “Which would make it welcome this week.”
“Since it’s going to turn very cold here—again,” said Mrs K R.
“What does Punxsutawney Phil have against us?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but that rotund rodent is getting annoying,” said Mrs K R. “Wonder how Braised Celery would pair with Groundhog Stew?”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Celery, Corn, and Bacon Chowder
Italian Celery and Mushroom Salad
Braised Belgian Endive
Fennel and Tomato Gratin
Or check out the index for more recipes