Celery leaves are like parsley on a bender—way more intense, bitter, and stoked to be at the party. And the hearts: Well, love me tender, they're kind of like that. Treated right, a celery heart becomes a lilting, smooth expression of its lanky-limbed brethren. So get on it and try a few of these celery fringe recipes out—or Mario Batali will come to your house and give you a spanking for every leaf and stalk he pulls from your trash. (If you haven't read Bill Buford's Heat, just ignore the reference and save your leaves and hearts. Thanks.)
- A great choice is to use celery leaves as an herb—we'll get to that in a second— but my hands-down favorite thing to do is to pulverize them into the most gorgeous green-tinged celery salt, much fresher and brighter than the stuff you buy in jars. Line a microwave-safe plate with a paper towel and arrange leaves in a single layer. Cover with another paper towel and zap in the microwave in 30-second increments until the leaves look more brittle than wilted (usually 1½ to 2 minutes total). Let the leaves cool, rub them through a fine-mesh sieve set over a dish of salt and combine. (Or grind them with the salt in a spice grinder.) The stuff is killer sprinkled over eggs, used to rim a shot of icy-cold vodka, or, of course, on a hot dog. (Be sure to snip the leaves buried inside the celery, too—one head of celery can yield two loose cups of leaves!)
- Celery leaves make for a deliciously assertive pesto that is unexpectedly reminiscent of licorice and citrus (and is stunning with grilled fish, lobster, and seared shrimp). Just use celery leaves in lieu of basil, toasted almonds instead of pine nuts and buzz in the customary Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil (a few fresh mint leaves are a nice addition, too). If you're not in the mood for fish, toss the pesto with pasta and crumbled ricotta salata or slather it onto garlic-rubbed slices of grilled bread.
- Leafy celery tops are a natural used as a bitter green in salads or to replace the crunch of celery in egg or tuna salad without sacrificing the flavor. Herbaceous and punchy, celery leaves can easily fit in most any recipe that calls for parsley, frisée, endive or radicchio.
- Braised celery hearts are classic. Already more tender than the outer stalks, a little time spent simmering in stock and they come close to melting, full of rich flavor. To make them, keep the pale inner ribs attached to the base and trim the dried-out bottom of the base. Using a paring knife, peel away the strings from the stalks. Slice the heart in half lengthwise. Melt a knob of butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet (big enough so the celery can lie flat) and brown the hearts on both sides. Season with salt and pour in enough chicken broth to half-cover the celery. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle bubble, cover and braise until a knife easily slips through the base, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the celery from the pan and stir a tablespoon or two of crème frâiche into the sauce (heavy cream or even sour cream would also be great), then pour over the braised hearts and serve alongside something delicate like poached chicken breast or wild salmon.
- You might not think of celery as sweet, but it actually candies like a champ. Poach it in simple syrup, and it trades in its crunch and strong flavor for an elusive, recognizable but mysteriously seductive sweetness. Its slight vegetal hum is an intriguing topping for strawberry ice cream, or chop it up (as best as you can--it is a little sticky) and use it instead of candied ginger in lemon scones. Simply bring 1 cup of water and 1 1/3 cups of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Add celery hearts that have been sliced into 1/2-inch crescent moons and simmer until glassy and transparent, cooked but still with slight crunch, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the celery using a slotted spoon. Cool completely and use as you like—store it for a week or so in the refrigerator in a few spoonfuls of the celery simple syrup. And don't even think about tossing the leftover celery syrup. Use it for making a celery-kissed gin-and-tonic or as a mixer in any cocktail calling for strawberries or cucumbers.