Italian

Marcella Hazan's Braised Celery with Onion, Pancetta, and Tomatoes

April  3, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- FOOD52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: You've got a bundle of celery in the back of your crisper drawer. (Go check. You do.) This is what you should do with it.

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Celery would like you to think it's very strict and plain.

It's what dieters eat when they're trying to outrun their calories. It's the dependable seat-filler in your pot roast and chicken noodle soup -- the one you didn't even notice you were eating. Even when you fill its crannies with peanut butter and parade raisins down its back, celery somehow seems austere.

There's a bag sitting in a dark corner of your refrigerator right now, just waiting for its next assignment. But if that celery isn't more than the log to your ants, you are missing out, my friends. Because it can do so much more.

Marcella Hazan

Marcella Hazan knows a good way to get celery to cut loose -- stick it in a bath with olive oil, tomato, pancetta, and onion, then stand back. When Food52er linzarella tipped me off to this method, she said, "It makes celery something to get really, really excited about -- no small feat!"

 

When you cook celery down with these four ingredients, you'll see it lose its rigid lines and sharp color. Sturdy chunks collapse and fade, drinking up the sweet, bacony tomato sauce.

onion

Marcella says to cook until tender, which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours, depending on what you're going for, and your definition of "tender".

More: Another vegetable you should be cooking forever? Broccoli.

 

Cook it down long enough, and you won't even need to peel it.

Marcella would have us peel the stringy outer stalks, but the version published in Saveur as part of an article by Lesley Porceli on the merits of long-cooked vegetables, doesn't. (On a long enough timeline, those strings are all that's keeping the stalks from falling apart.)

You can even make this when your celery is starting to wither a little, and bends a bit too much to be shaved into salads. (Which is good, because seriously that bag of celery has been there forever.)

What to eat with with your pile of soft, sweet celery? A juicy roast chicken, lamb, or a veal chop. Polenta or farro. A fried egg with very crisp edges. Bread. Nothing.

More: 20 more surprising celery recipes (20!).

Marcella Hazan's Braised Celery with Onion, Pancetta and Tomatoes

Adapted slightly from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Alfred Knopf, 1992)

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds celery
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups onions sliced very thin
2/3 cup pancetta, cut into thin strips
3/4 cup canned plum tomatoes, chopped coarse, with their juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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33 Comments

Davis B. May 1, 2013
I'm in love! Who would have thought? Made this twice in a row. Try adding crushed fennel seed; maybe even braise some fennel in the mix!
 
gingerroot April 25, 2013
I made this for dinner last night with 2 beautiful heads of local, organic celery (not often found here in HI!). Served it with millet and it was excellent. Even though my children were a little befuddled - celery for dinner? - they agreed it was delicious.
 
susanjw April 14, 2013
I had this at a party tonight as a side dish with roasted rockfish, and it was terrific. I'm so glad I found the recipe here.
 
PRST April 11, 2013
Marcella takes celery to a memorable place at my table! Simple and oh so delicious.<br />
 
allysahn April 10, 2013
This sounds great. I'm always looking for something to do with that celery...
 
SFoodGeek April 9, 2013
I discovered this technique in one of the restaurant kitchens I worked years ago and I love it. It's a versatile technique, the bacon and tomatoes are just a jumping off point- I sometimes use onions, olives and preserved lemons with a big wedge of feta on the side. Yum!
 
julesues April 9, 2013
What if you don't eat tomatoes? (I never know what to substitute for them)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 11, 2013
I would try something along the lines of what Marcella Hazan suggested below -- you could still use the pancetta, onion, and olive oil if you wanted, and add some lemon for acid.
 
Brittany W. April 8, 2013
That looks amazing. After a childhood of being repulsed by celery, I finally discovered another palatable method of cooking--braising with olives and a vinaigrette--from Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book. I'm definitely going to have to try this. My next step is to serve it to my family and convert them!
 
Marcella H. April 7, 2013
An even simpler and stupefyingly tasty dish is braised celery and potatoes with olive oil and lemon juice. It's in one of my books.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 8, 2013
Thanks so much for your comment! I think that recipe is also in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
 
Lindsay C. April 7, 2013
This looks amazing, and I will be making it tonight -- after I steal a stalk for ants on a log. (How had I forgotten about the best after school snack ever?)
 
tnypow April 7, 2013
Thank You, Thank you for this...you're absolutely correct...i alway "vow" to do something with that leftover celery till it's too late. And I love how "too late" is not too late for this!<br />Next assignment, (in time for summer) what to do with that "basil bush" you're forced to buy when you only need a few leaves...pesto doesn't count.
 
BJGBK April 7, 2013
Ditto to previous comment for vegetarians?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 8, 2013
You could easily leave the pancetta out, or substitute some sort of salty olive or capers. Also, see the comment left by Marcella Hazan (!) above about an even simpler vegetarian version.
 
Twinsx2mom April 7, 2013
What can you substitute if you don't eat meat?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. April 8, 2013
See above!
 
joannajw April 7, 2013
I'm going to make this today! But a comment on celery as it took me by surprise when I found out. It is one of the 10 "dirtiest" (not garden dirt but pesticides etc) vegetables. If you have a garden try growing it. You'll be amazed how good it tastes!
 
Peter April 8, 2013
...and with that in mind, I make a point of always buying organic celery. It's (pleasantly) surprising how much more celery-like it tastes!
 
Andreas D. April 8, 2013
A fun thing to do with celery is to replant the root bit. just cut off the stalks, then set the bottom into a bowl with water. Within a week new shoots will grow, which can then be transplanted in the garden. Never-ending celery, a great project to do with kids.
 
Andreas D. April 8, 2013
A fun thing to do with celery is to replant the root bit. just cut off the stalks, then set the bottom into a bowl with water. Within a week new shoots will grow, which can then be transplanted in the garden. Never-ending celery, a great project to do with kids.
 
Andreas D. April 7, 2013
I have no idea where my comment on this post disappeared to, but disappear it did, so here it is again. <br /><br />I fry up some Italian sausages, or home made meatballs when I've got the time, and add them to the braise for the last 15 minutes. I then add a large serving of cooked penne, give it all a last stir and serve it with grated parmesan. <br /><br />Even my picky two year old likes this.
 
QTPie June 12, 2013
Who wouldn't like this? YUM!!!! Thanks for sharing!
 
mlsparks April 5, 2013
Made this tonight, it was so delicious!!! My boyfriend raved about it, and it will definitely be put into my rotation of things to cook! YUM!
 
aran.connolly April 4, 2013
Marcella is the Gran Dama of the Italian kitchen she is my Julia Child...
 
fhp April 7, 2013
Viva Marcella...what would I do without her?
 
pierino April 3, 2013
Might I just add that you should look for celery at your green market and pick a bunch where the tops haven't been hacked off, supermarket style. Chop those leaves and add them at the finish line as they pack a lot of flavor.
 
Cheryl N. April 3, 2013
Braised celery with a bit of butter & crushed fennel seed is my "go-to" for the last few stalks, but this looks good and worthy of trying!
 
linzarella April 3, 2013
Yay, so excited to see this amazing recipe featured here!