Yeah, I said celery – you got a problem with that? If so, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong, but in all fairness, it might not be all your fault. Answer me this – is the celery you’re familiar with what you get from the supermarket? Do you actually check out what you buy before you buy it? Ever grown your own or got celery from good local CSA or framers market? If you answered YES, NO, NO, NO, then you gotta up your game. Let’s run down that list.
Just look at that stuff in the image above – it’s kind of a shitty picture, but even so, does that look good to you? Look fresh, appealing? No, it doesn’t, and again, if this is what you’re buying, no wonder you dis celery.
If you do buy supermarket celery, do you check it out first? I can’t tell you how many times somebody sees me choosing produce and asks, ‘what are you doing?’ Bloody hell – I’m making sure that what I buy is worth my money! Grab a leaf off that celery stalk, crush it and smell it – does it smell good? Greenish, sharp, a bit peppery? Bend a stalk or three- are they like rubber, or are they firm and resist being bent? If you answer NO and NO, don’t buy it.
Finally, if you’ve never grown your own or bought fresh local celery, then frankly, you got no idea what good celery is – and good celery is well worth your time and energy.
Why is celery worth your while? It’s healthy as all get out for starters – high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants, and high in phthalides which can help regulate blood pressure, and its even got extracts onboard that help cognition and memory.
Yes, good, fresh celery tastes excellent as well – it’s related to carrots and turnips, and has a light but very present flavor profile, a peppery, earthy tang with nods to onion or garlic chive. To me, the flavor is most pronounced in the leaves, which is why I use them a lot – added to hot or cold salad, soup, stew, stir fries, vegetable medleys, pan sauces and salsas, they’re delightful.
We grow celery annually, and it’s always the last to succumb to freezing weather – Our go to is Tall Utah, (what you see in the image above), a hearty and stringless variety with great taste and big leaves that lend themselves beautifully to fresh use and drying.
Giant Red is a cold hearty and gorgeous variety with arguably the strongest flavor profile you’re likely to find – it’s a fave in England, and should be here too – it’s delightful stuff.
Nan Long is a leafy, Chinese variety that produces delicate, thin stalks and pairs wonderfully with Asian cuisines. It’s a quick maturing variety that thrives in climates with a short summer growing season.
Finally there’s celeriac, a variety grown for its hypocotyl -a big, robust rootlike growth. Celeriac is far more popular in Europe than the U.S., which is a shame, because it’s delicious, hearty, and easier to grow than stalk celery. Celeriac is sewn after the last frost and harvested in fall to winter – it stores well, and can be frozen or dried as well. Celeriac tastes like, well… like celery, but with a distinctly nuttier note, stronger presence, and a fantastic crunchy texture.
Whatever you decide to grow or hunt and gather, once you’ve tasted real, fresh celery, you’ll never willingly go back to store bought tubular cardboard – You’ll find celery taking its rightful place alongside all the other veggies you love and eat regularly. As for what to make, I’ll just say this – You’ll find a myriad of things to do with it, and don’t be at all surprised if fresh, braised, sautéed, or roasted celery finds its way into your routine – it’s that good – no, honest!
Giardiniera – The King of Pickled Veggies. Easy to make, and a great use for those late season veggies from the garden or farmers market.
This year’s garden has been hit and miss. Some things have done nicely, others not, even with staggered plantings. That struck home when we had a look at the cucumbers and realized we wouldn’t get enough to make a winters worth of pickles and relish – That’s when inspiration struck – Why not go for a big batch of Giardiniera, the King of pickled veggies, instead?
Giardiniera, (Jar-dhi-nare-uh), is a delightful pickled vegetable mix, either done up as bite sized pieces or a relish. Redolent of fresh veggies and good olive oil, wrapped around lip smacking brininess that rivals a great cornichon – This is something we all need to be making at home.
Pickling foods to preserve them hardens back thousands of years and crosses numerous boundaries – almost every society does and has employed it. Everything from veggies, to meat, fish, fruit, nuts, and even eggs can end up in the pickle jar, much to our advantage. Pickling not only helps preserve things through the dark months, it adds a vital zip to what can otherwise be a rather bland time of year.
Giardiniera hails from Italy, and means literally, ‘from the garden, (also called sottacetto, or ‘under vinegar.’) While variants come from all over the boot, the versions we’re most familiar with has southern roots, down where the mild Mediterranean climate fosters a wide variety of veggies, the best olive oil, and great sea salt. That’s where those colorful jars filled with cauliflower, carrot, olives, onions, peppers, and chiles hailed from.
You’ll likely find jars of the bite sized version of giardiniera in your local grocery, with the fancy olives and other pickled goodies. While some of the commercial stuff is pretty good, none of it can match what you can make at home, and to top things off, it’s remarkably easy to do, (And frankly, the relish version of giardiniera is much more versatile, and rarely found in stores).
Seasoned with fresh herbs, maybe even touched with a little hot chile flake, giardiniera is fabulous on sandwiches, (including burgers and dogs), pizza, salads, and as a table condiment with more dishes than you can shake a stick at. Now is the time to be doing up a few batches of your own – it’s fairly traditional for giardiniera to be made in the fall, as a catch all for all those late season veggies we don’t want to lose to the first frost.
The American home of giardiniera is Chicago, where that famous Italian beef sandwich hails from. Slow roasted beef, cooked over its own jus, sliced thin and slapped onto a nice, dense roll, ladled with a generous spoon of giardiniera, a little jus, and eaten in the classic sloppy sandwich hunch – a little slice of heaven.
Making giardiniera is a real treat. Your first and foremost issue, naturally, is what to put into the mix. The blend I outlined earlier is generally recognized as the classic base mix, but pretty much anything goes, (I should note that peppers and chiles were not in the original Italian versions of the dish, as they didn’t show up in European cultivation until the 1700s.) firm veggies, like carrots, celeriac root, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus do well. Peppers and chiles will do well too, though really soft stuff like tomatoes tend to break down quickly.
Making giardiniera couldn’t be easier. While some recipes call for cooking or fermenting, (both processes are perfectly fine), the simplest version is, for my mind, best – Just brine your veggie mix for a day or two, until you reach the degrees of zip and bite that you like, and that’s it. You’ll find recipes that call for the mix to be stored in brine, oil, vinegar, and a simple vinaigrette – My money is in the latter option – that will provide a nice stable medium, and a great taste as well.
There are typically mild and spicy (AKA Hot) versions, and extensive regional variety, like the Chicago style that includes sport peppers and an accompanying degree of heat. Down south, the version that goes with a muffuletta sandwich is mild and heavier on the olives. Those are great, and worth your time to build, but really, look upon giardiniera as a launching pad for creativity – You really can’t go wrong if it’s made with stuff you love – For instance, I didn’t have celery when I made up the relish version, but I did have fresh celeriac root, and it turned out to be a wonderful substitution.
You can use any oil and vinegar you like for the base vinaigrette. Seasoning can be as easy as good salt, olive oil, and vinegar. When you feel like adding additional spices, be conservative in both number and ratio – The rule of three is a good thing here.
Unless you process your giardiniera in a hot water bath, keep in mind that this is basically a fridge pickle. If made carefully, and packed into sterilized glass jars, it will last a month or two refrigerated. Just keep in mind that they’re not shelf stable unless you go through the canning process. Accordingly, what we offer below are small batches that will make a couple of quart jars of finished product. There are cooked and fermented versions out there, and we’ll leave those for you to explore.
For the base mix
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Pepper
1 small Sweet Onion
2-4 Jalapeño Chiles
1 medium Carrot
1 Stalk Celery
1/2 Cup Cauliflower florets
1/4 Cup Pickling Salt
For the final mix
1 Cup White Vinegar
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6-8 large Green Olives
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flake
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
Rinse all produce thoroughly.
Stem, seed, and devein the peppers and chiles, (leave the veins in the jalapeños if you want more heat).
Cut all veggies for the base mix into a uniform fine dice, about 1/4″ pieces. It’s not important to be exact, just get everything about the same size and you’ll be fine.
Transfer the mix to a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Cover the mix with fresh, cold water with an inch or so to spare.
Add the pickling salt and mix with a slotted spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, take a spoon of the mix out, gently rinse it under cold water for a minute or so.
Test the degree of pickle and softness of the veggies. If you like what you’ve got, move on – If not, give it another day.
When you’re ready to prep the final mix –
Remove the base mix from the fridge and transfer to a single mesh strainer. Run cold water over and through the mix, using your hand to make sure that the salt solution is rinsed off.
fine dice the olives, peel, trim and mince the garlic.
Add all ingredients to a glass or stainless mixing bowl and stir with a slotted spoon to thoroughly incorporate.
Sanitize two quart mason jars either by boiling the jars, rings, and lids for 3-5 minutes in clean, fresh water, or running them through a cycle in your dishwasher.
Transfer the mix to the jars, and seal. Refrigerate for two days prior to use.
For the bite sized version, cut everything into roughly 1″ pieces, )or larger, depending on jar size and predilection), and process as per above. A bay leaf or two is a nice addition.
Granitas are a lovely, light alternative to ice cream or sherbet that contain no dairy at all and are super simple to make; if you’ve never tried one, it’s time. This version highlights the tart sweetness of cranberries and citrus and is, quite frankly, stunningly pretty.
We’re highlighting cranberries ’cause we typically just haul them out for the holidays, but that’s not right, (but go ahead and do so now, OK?) Cranberries are incredibly tasty, make gorgeous food, and are darn good for you as well. They’re not only rich in Vitamin C, but have excellent infection fighting properties as well, as anyone who’s had a urinary tract infection knows. Cranberries contain compounds known as condensed tannins, which are potent antioxidants with known anti-inflammatory properties. Cooking does not degrade tannins, so here’s a delicious little fruit that’s remarkably healthy even when we do stuff to ’em. Here’s how you granita.
1 Cup Water
3-4 fresh Navel Oranges
1 each fresh Lemon and Lime
1 1/2 Cups Cranberries, fresh or frozen, washed and sorted
1/2 Cup Agave Nectar or Honey
Thoroughly rinse cranberries and citrus. If your citrus has been waxed or treated, put them whole in a bowl containing ¼ cup white vinegar mixed with 4 cups cold water. Allow them to soak for about 15 minutes, then rinse in fresh water and dry with a clean towel.
Zest all citrus, then juice each into separate small bowls or cups.
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat, add;
1 cup of orange juice,
1 teaspoon lime juice,
1 teaspoon lemon juice,
The agave nectar or honey,
1/2 teaspoon of orange, lemon and lime zest.
Heat to a fast simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to pop, (about 5 minutes).
Remove pan from heat and purée the ingredients with a stick blender; be careful, the blend holds heat well and is sticky.
Carefully pour the mixture through a steel mesh strainer, into a glass baking pan, (around 9″ x 12″ is right, and a half cookie sheet with sides will work if you don’t have the pan).
Press gently on the mix with a spatula; you’ll end up with some skins and zest that won’t make it through the strainer.
Slide the pan into your freezer for at least 4 hours, (and overnight is fine), along with 4 margarita or Marie Antoinette champagne glasses. Freeze until the granita is completely set.
Scrape the granita carefully towards with a fork while holding the pan steady, until you’ve got a nice shaved ice consistency.
Scoop granita into the chilled glasses, garnish with a Rosemary sprig, and serve immediately.
You might have been perusing the produce aisle recently and seen a fruit called a Champagne Mango. They’re somewhat new to many parts of the US, but they ain’t new in the Big Picture view. The Champagne, also known as an Ataúlfo, (and young, baby, yellow, honey, or adolpho), is a well established Mexican cultivar. Champagnes are gorgeous; big, heavy, golden-yellow beauties that are somewhat pear shaped. They’re thin skinned, with deep yellow, rich flesh and a very skinny pit. They’re quite high in sugar, with a tangy-sweet flavor, rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Down in the Mexican state of Chiapas, when Ataúlfo Morales bought Some land back in 1950, there were already bearing mango trees on the property. Around eight years later, a researcher from the Mexican Commission of Pomology heard of Señor Morales’ mangoes and came to have a look. He went off with samples and stock which he named Ataúlfo, in honor of the property owner, and the rest is history.
If you like mangoes, (and even if you don’t), you owe it yourself to try these beauties. While they’re a real treat to peel and eat straight away, here are three of our favorite things to do with them.
Fruit Curds go back quite a ways in history. Technically, since they include eggs, butter, and require preparation like an emulsion, they’re probably more of a custard than a preserve, I guess. The 1844 edition of The Lady’s Own Cookery Book included a primitive version of a lemon curd;, using lemons to acidify cream, then separating the lemony curds from the whey. Further back yet you’ll find recipes for ‘lemon cheese’, used to make what was called a lemon cheese cake, but reads like what we’d call a lemon tart these days. Our version of Mango Curd is stunningly good, if we do say so ourselves…
2 ripe Mangoes
3 large Eggs
6 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Agave Nectar or Honey
1 fresh small Lemon
1 fresh small Lime
Pinch of Sea Salt
Rinse, Peel and roughly chop the mangoes; you’ll want to kind of shave the meat away from the skinny pit.
Purée the mango chunks with a stick blender or food processor. You want to end up with about 1 cup of purée.
Set that aside.
Rinse, zest and juice the lemon and lime, then set juice and zest aside.
Cut very cold butter into about 1/2″ cubes.
Crack eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk lightly.
For cooking the blend, a double boiler is best. If you don’t have one, work with a bowl or pan that will fit comfortably inside a larger one. Fill your double boiler bottom or pan about 2/3 full of water and heat over medium flame. You want the water steaming, but not simmering when you’re ready to cook.
Combine the eggs, lemon and lime zest, citrus juice, the agave nectar or honey, and a pinch of salt. Whisk the mixture until fully incorporated and evenly colored, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the mango purée to the blend and whisk for about a minute to fully incorporate.
Put your bowl with the blended ingredients over your pan filled with hot water, (Or double boiler). Allow the mixture to heat, stirring gently but continuously, for about 3 minutes. Start adding the butter in small batches of 6 to 8 cubes, whisking steadily and allowing each batch to melt and incorporate before adding the next.
Again, a curd is an emulsion, so the butter, (fat), needs time and gentle whisking to properly marry with the egg and fruit blend.
When all the butter is melted, continue whisking gently and steadily until the curd begins to thicken noticeably, about another 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the curd from the heat. Transfer the curd to a fine mesh strainer over a glass or steel bowl and use a spatula to gently strain the curd through the strainer. You’ll end up with some zest and fiber that doesn’t make it through.
Refrigerate in a glass jar or airtight container for at least four hours. The curd will keep for about a week refrigerated, but I’ll bet it won’t last anything close to that long…
A small dish of this lovely stuff is a remarkably delicious desert, or an excellent palate cleanser after a heavy course in a fancy meal. Try it on freshly made shortbread with strawberries for a real treat.
NOTE: You may substitute coconut oil for butter for a dairy free variation.
Granitas are the pure essence of fruit and natural sweeteners. With no diary on board, they’re actually not at all bad for you either. This version was the best we’ve made, of any fruit.
2 ripe Champagne Mangoes
2 Cups Water
1 fresh small Lemon
1 fresh small Lime
3/4 cup Agave Nectar or Honey
Rinse, peel and rough chop the mango flesh.
Rinse, zest, and juice the lemon and lime.
In a food processor or blender, purée the mango until smooth and uniform, about 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.
Add the water and honey or agave to a sauce pan over medium heat. Thoroughly melt the sweetener, then add the purée, zest, lemon and lime juice, and stir to incorporate.
Add the puréed mango and stir steadily and gently until the blend starts to simmer. When the whole blend is evenly mango colored and starts to thicken slightly, remove it from the heat; the whole heating process will take around 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the mixture from heat and pour the blend through a single layer strainer into a 9-inch-square shallow baking pan. This pan size works best because it provides a large surface area, a key point in speeding up the freezing process. To further hasten freezing, use a heavy steel or glass pan.
Put the pan in the freezer and stir about every hour with a large fork, times down like you’re raking the granita. Depending on your freezer temp, it will take around 3 to 5 hours for the granita to freeze completely.
You can eat the granita as soon as it’s frozen through, but the flavor will genuinely develop appreciably if you transfer it to an airtight container and freeze it overnight.
When you’re ready to serve the granita, just scape up the shaved ice and fill a chilled margarita glass, band top with a mint sprig.
Mango salsa is a real treat; the counterpoint of sweet and heat is great with fish, poultry, and pork. Try it on freshly scrambled eggs too.
1 Champagne Mango
2 ripe Roma Tomatoes
1/2 Red Onion
1-3 Jalapeño Chiles
2-4 sprigs fresh Cilantro
1 small Lemon
1 small Lime
Pinch of Sea Salt
Rinse all fruits and veggies. Peel and dice mango. Core, seed and dice the tomatoes. Dice the onion. Chiffonade the cilantro. Juice the citrus.
Combined all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes, (and as long as overnight – The flavors just get better.)