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Published August 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

Halgrimson: Celery leaves add flavor

When the farmers market at the dike in Fargo opened early this summer, Bill Erbes of rural Colfax, N.D., arrived at his stall with several coolers filled with lettuce and celery leaves.

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

When the farmers market at the dike in Fargo opened early this summer, Bill Erbes of rural Colfax, N.D., arrived at his stall with several coolers filled with lettuce and celery leaves.

The ribs of this celery are pencil-thin and are topped with 8 to 10 inches of large, lush, aromatic, dark green leaves – not at all like the few skimpy, pallid leaves found on most supermarket celery.

Erbes doesn’t always have the celery leaves on hand. But if you ask him nicely, he’ll bring them the next time the market is open.

I’ve been adding them to pasta dishes, potato salads, poultry stuffing, soups, stocks and green salads. Those who are not fond of cilantro’s funky flavor can use celery leaves instead.

The dark green leaves are a tasty addition to poaching liquids, pickling brine and the broth used to steam mussels. Or add them to a braise right before the lid goes on.

Sometimes carrots and onions can sweeten a soup; but if chopped celery leaves are added, they balance the sweetness with their slightly bitter edge.

For a roast chicken, chop the leaves with some shallot or garlic, mix with butter and push under the skin on the legs and breast.

The celery leaves also make a magnificent pesto that is not only delicious on pasta but a lovely addition to vinaigrette sauce or soup.

Pesto

1 1/2 cups packed fresh celery leaves

1 large garlic clove

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts

1 teaspoon grated lime peel

5 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash celery leaves and remove any brown leaves. Dry in a salad spinner or on paper towels.

Combine celery leaves, garlic, cheese, nuts and lime peel in a food processor and whiz briefly to mix.

With machine running, slowly add olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and process to desired consistency. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Celery Soup

3 tablespoons good olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large russet potato, diced

3 medium carrots, grated

10 celery stalks with leaves, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

5 cups vegetable broth, water or chicken stock

2 cups cooked rice or barley

1/3 cup celery leaf pesto (optional, but see head notes)

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)

Pour olive oil into a heavy pot over medium high heat and add vegetables. Saute until onions and celery soften. Stir in garlic and add stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Add rice or barley and heat through. Ladle into bowls and top each with a generous drizzle of celery leaf pesto (below.) Serves 6.

For pesto

1 cup gently packed celery leaves

1 large clove of garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup good olive oil

Puree all of these ingredients in a food processor for about 30 seconds.

Bibb Lettuce and Celery-Leaf Salad

2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons walnut oil

1 pound bibb lettuce (about 5 small heads), leaves separated

2 cups celery leaves

Whisk together vinegar, shallot, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add oils in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Toss lettuce and celery leaves in a large bowl with just enough vinaigrette to coat them.

Butternut Squash with Celery Leaves

1 onion, diced

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 1/2-inch)

1/2 pound Roma tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup fresh celery leaves, chopped

1 pound pasta such as small shells or macaroni, cooked al dente

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Sauté onion in olive oil about 10 minutes or until softened. Add squash, tomatoes, garlic and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add about 1/2 cup water, cover and let simmer about 15 minutes until squash is cooked. Do not overcook as squash will become too soft. Mix in celery leaves, serve over warm pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Sources: “The Food Lovers Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst; www.epicurious.com/recipes; http://chowhound.chow.com; www.101cookbooks.com/archives


Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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