Celery is plentiful and a wonderful vegetable, yet I see it mostly used in making stocks or salads. This way of braising celery is easy and flavorful, and makes a grand side dish for grilled fish or chicken. It can be cooked in advance and reheated when your guests come—or serve it at room temperature as an appetizer. I’ve also discovered that any leftovers make a very good chutney: chop coarsely and spread on a sandwich of cold cuts or cheese. Fantastic!
- 2½ pounds celery (1 large or 2 medium heads)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- ½ cup pitted black olives
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups hot water
You will need a heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron Dutch-oven, 10 inches wide with a 3-to-4- quart capacity, with a cover. Separate the heads of celery, and wash and trim the stalks. Shave tough outer ribs with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, removing thick skin and strings. Cut the stalks crosswise, including leafy parts, into 4-inch pieces (or smaller chunks if you prefer). Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, set it over medium heat, stir in the garlic cloves and sliced onions, and heat until sizzling. Heap the celery in the pan, sprinkle over it the salt and peperoncino, and stir and toss, coating the celery chunks with oil. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the celery starts cooking. Stir in the olives, turn up the heat a bit, and sauté the vegetables about 15 minutes, tossing and stirring now and then, until the celery and onions are softened and caramelized on the edges. Meanwhile, stir and blend the tomato paste in the 2 cups of hot water to make a braising liquid.
When the celery is lightly browned, pour in the tomato water and bring it to a boil. Cover the pan, and adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle perking. Cook about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the celery is completely tender and caramelized and the liquid has reduced to a glaze. Serve right away as a side dish, or let it cool to room temperature. Leftover celery will keep in the refrigerator for a few days and freezes well.