Celery, for many years, was a mystery to me. I know it adds the important base flavors to a million dishes, so I sauté it up with the green bell pepper, onion and celery trinity of Cajun cooking, and with carrots and onions in the soffrito of Italian and Spanish food and the mirepoix of the French. But I never really liked it on its own. Probably because the only experience I had with it on its own was the raw celery stick languishing on the crudité tray.
Diet fads and magazines were always telling me to ditch the chips and go for celery sticks instead, and that never seemed like an equal trade off. But I do love the smell of celery; it's fresh and bracing and clean. So I always thought I ought to like it more.
One unexpectedly cold spring day in London, the soup of the day in the café I happened into was cream of celery. I was dubious, but really needed some warm soup, so I ordered it. Again, perception here was the problem. I had only ever heard of cream of celery soup as the glob in a can used for casseroles. It hadn’t realized it was an actual soup.
The pale green, creamy soup arrived and was a revelation. Warm and creamy with the taste that captured the smell of celery that I love so much. I jotted down the ingredients (fresh celery, celeriac and cream) written on the chalkboard at that London café and worked on my own home version.
I find this a particularly comforting soup. Just a big hunk of crusty wholemeal bread makes a treat. But for a jazzier meal, try serving this with an apple and blue cheese grilled sandwich.
Cream of celery soup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, diced
Kosher salt to taste
1 bunch celery (with leaves), about 1 pound
1 celery root (celeriac), about 12 ounces
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add the diced onion. Cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the bottom from the bunch of celery and discard, then cut the whole bunch into small pieces. Rinse in a colander and add to the pot. Peel the celery root and cut into small pieces and add to the pot. Sprinkle over about 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir well to coat in the butter, then cook for about 10 minutes until the celery root is becoming tender.
2. Add the chicken broth and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until the celery root is very tender. Leave the soup to cool.
3. Transfer the cooled soup to the carafe of a blender (working in batches if necessary), add parsley leaves and celery salt and puree until smooth.
4. Return the soup to the pot. (You can cover and refrigerate the soup at this point for 2 days). When ready to serve, warm the soup over medium heat and whisk in the cream. Heat the soup through, but do not let it boil. Season with salt and/or celery salt to taste.
- Buy a bunch of celery with as many leaves attached as you can find. They add real punch to the soup.
- Celery root is knobbly and a bit of a trick to peel. I find a sturdy peeler works well, but you may need to go back over your work with a paring knife in some nooks and crannies.
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