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Braised Celery and Olives

May 24, 2011

It is a rare occasion when I find myself spending an hour in front of the television catching up on my recorded cooking shows. My husband is usually in charge of the remote control since I simply don’t watch much TV.  Even rarer is the occasion when husband would actually sit through an entire cooking show with me.  He is not as enthusiastic about food as I am but over the weekend, he became a Lidia Bastianich fan.  He enjoyed her engaging, no-nonsense style and the way she would exclaim, “mm-mm-mm” after taking a bite of the dishes she made. But above all this, I believe that what won him over was watching her prepare one of his favorite vegetables: the celery.

I buy at least one head of celery each week.  No matter what type of salad I prepare, my husband always thinks it would be better with celery.  Soup? How about adding celery, he’ll suggest.  Appetizer? Stir fry? Stew? You get the idea.  I like celery, too, but even I have my limits.  It has its place in my kitchen, but admittedly, I haven’t given it much opportunity to step up above its role as a secondary ingredient.  A filler. A supplement. In short, second to everything else.

Enter Ms. Bastianich.  She made the celery the star.  We watched her braise the celery with other equally humble ingredients–onions, garlic, olives, tomato paste, water–prompting my husband to say “we should try this” and at that, my heart sang.  This marked his second request in as many days; I might have waited longer to try this dish were it not for my joy at witnessing my husband’s foodie moment.

This is a don’t-knock-it-until-you-try-it dish.  You might be tempted to dismiss it like I was, but in the end I was very happy that my husband requested it.  I was stunned by how much I liked it.  Braising did to celery what roasting does to brussels sprouts and cauliflower–its full potential is realized.  The celery had depth of flavor that I’ve never tasted before, aided by the caramelized onions and salty olives.  The tomato paste , even just the small amount added, provided the long-simmered richness that brought everything together.  Crushed red pepppers gave the dish an extra boost.

I have a new found love for celery.  Who knew it could be so comforting and satisfying outside of a meat stew?  Well, Ms. Bastianich did, so I have her to thank once again for a winning recipe.

Braised Celery and Olives

* from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy

Note: I halved this recipe but I’ll post the original amounts suggested. I recommend making the full batch.

  • 2 1/2 pounds celery (1 large or 2 medium heads)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled (I used more for my half batch)
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives (I used kalamata from a jar)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups hot water
  1. Separates the heads of celery and wash and trim the stalks.  Shave the tough outer ribs, if necessary, then cut the stalks (including leafy parts) in 4-inch or smaller pieces.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic cloves and onions and heat until they start to sizzle.  Cook for a  minute or two, just to give the onions a little color.
  3. Add the celery, salt and crushed red pepper then stir, making sure to coat the celery with oil.
  4. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the olives, raise the heat a bit and sauté the vegetables for about 15 minutes.  Stir from time to time.  The celery and onions should soften and caramelize a bit at the edges.
  6. Stir in the tomato paste in the hot water and add to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover the pan and lower the heat to simmer.  Cook about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the celery is completely tender and caramelized and the liquid has reduced to a glaze (my half batch simmered for 25 minutes).
  7. Serve warm.
26 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2011 8:11 AM

    I love braised celery and often set aside roast or braised meat. But the flavors in this version make it practically the star of the plate! GREG

  2. May 25, 2011 8:57 AM

    This looks soooo good! Whenever I braise, roast meat and use celery,I usually go for that first! I can not wait to try this! I remember on twitter a while back you saying your husband loves everything celery, too sweet. Great story. Thanks for another inspiring recipe 🙂

    • May 27, 2011 8:53 AM

      Thanks, Sommer. He really is crazy about celery. In this dish, I can see why. He’s requested it again. 🙂

  3. May 25, 2011 9:01 AM

    I’m totally intrigued… Bookmarking this!

  4. May 25, 2011 9:51 AM

    Some people just aren’t fans of celery… but I don’t know if they just haven’t had it when it has been cooked like this. I think this would change their mind.

  5. May 25, 2011 9:56 AM

    Love celery! This sounds so delicious. We make something similar but Chinese style (as usual). Can have this with pasta.

  6. May 25, 2011 1:50 PM

    This is one gorgeous plate of food Jean and I do love my celery, this is a must make dish for me!
    Pretty pictures, love your plate too;-)

    • May 27, 2011 8:54 AM

      Hi Patty,
      I think you’ll like this then. I think this will make another appearance tonight. 🙂

      The plate was a gift from a dear friend. She brought it back from a trip to Spain. 🙂

  7. May 25, 2011 2:06 PM

    Hmmm very nice side dish! I usually end up making a soup to finish up celery, but next time I’ll give this a try.

    • May 27, 2011 8:55 AM

      Nami, that’s what I do, too. Or I add it to fried rice. It was nice to serve it in a new way. I’m adding this to your regular rotation.

  8. May 25, 2011 2:46 PM

    Braised celery is absolutely fantastic. I think I first tried it from a Lidia Bastianic recipe, too. The olives make this particularly appealing.

  9. May 26, 2011 4:51 AM

    I’m definitely going to try this recipe. We eat POUNDS of celery weekly! Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. May 26, 2011 6:20 AM

    Now that sounds good – I love braised vegetables and Lidia Bastianic’s recipes!

  11. May 26, 2011 7:45 PM

    I associate celery with stick-thin anorexic models. Or as a crunchy ingredient in the background for chicken salad. Never have I drooled over celery as I am now. Oh my. I certainly MUST try this dish!

  12. May 26, 2011 8:27 PM

    Wow, I would have never thought of this combo, but I’m suddenly craving it. 🙂

  13. May 26, 2011 8:34 PM

    I have never thought to braise celery. We too have a lot of celery at our house and I could use a new cooking technique! I really like that most of the ingredients are things we would already have on hand – a real pantry dish.

  14. May 26, 2011 9:25 PM

    This is something for me to try! I always tell my son, “You might not like this now, but when you grow up a little bit, you might really like it.”

    I enjoyed watching LB back in the days when I get to watch TV. PBS, I believe. So wonderful to revisit her here, Jean. Thanks for sharing.

  15. May 27, 2011 12:27 AM

    You hubs and his love for celery cracks me up 🙂 I must admit, any time I braise a meat, I almost always put celery, and those chunks of celery are some of the best parts of the dish. But I have never thought to braise it as the star of the dish! It looks amazing!

  16. May 27, 2011 1:45 AM

    Oh my gosh that sounds fantastic! I need to make this now!

  17. May 30, 2011 5:44 AM

    Braised celery is delicious prepared this way; I have always liked Ms Bastianich especially because she is like my grandmother, from Trieste.

  18. May 31, 2011 3:45 PM

    Oh, I love Lidia but can’t seem to catch her show! I’m definitely making this since it has Lidia’s and your endorsement 🙂 I always have a head of celery in the crisper and unfortunately, it often gets thrown out (into the compost now).

  19. June 1, 2011 9:24 PM

    My Aunt recently made a Japanese influenced braised celery and it was the first time I’d ever eaten celery as the star ingredient of a dish. I quite enjoyed it and I’m certain I would enjoy this Italian version as well. I always seem to have leftover celery when I buy a bunch and I’d like to braising it next time. BTW, my husband hates celery which is unfortunate since I love it so! You’re so lucky your hubs loves it! 🙂

  20. June 15, 2011 9:51 AM

    I always considered celery a crunchy filler until I tried a stir fried chicken and celery dish. The celery absolutely sang. Now, I can’t wait to try this. Kate @kateiscooking

  21. boomdog02 permalink
    November 22, 2011 2:16 PM

    I, Like you, saw Ms. Lydiia make this on TV and I was intrigued…I followed suite and made it and I was amazaed. She is a wizard, transpfoming this simple, overlooked, throw-away of a vegetable, into something other-wordly. The flavors were totally unexpected, the celery tender to the bite, the sauce a perfect balance of tomato-ey sweetness and salty brine from the olives. Think you don’t like celery?….you are wrong.


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