Awhile back, I puzzled over a tidbit in a magazine. "To have fun," it asked, "would you prefer to go to a party with lots of old friends or one where you'll know hardly anyone?"
Turns out that if FUN is the desired experience, then partying with new people is the ticket. (Okay, yes, I know, who can make such a generalization? and why is new fun better than laughing over old jokes? and yes, the folks who did the study, went to the parties and probably wrote the piece in the magazine might have all been Es in the Meyers-Briggs schema. And who reads this stuff anyway? Please, bear with me.)
And so it's turned out cooking and writing about vegetables for nearly a year now. It's great fun to try new vegetables. But it's also quite something to discover new dimensions in standby vegetables.
Take the under-appreciated celery. It had me extolling leafy virtues in Day 247's apple and celery salad (2008: my go-to salad whenever finding plenty of celery leaves in a celery bunch). It had me moaning about Day 317's simple braised celery. And here I am again, raving about a simple and yet somehow complex soup that is somehow 100% celery and yet 100% something else altogether.
The Wednesday Chef had the same reaction on Monday with a Leslie Brenner recipe from the Los Angeles Times. Luisa's soup was as elegant as her description; mine was intentionally more rustic. Still, our two versions prove: celery can surprise.
NUTRITION NOTES This is a winner calorie-wise, just 1 point or 2 points for Weight Watchers but tasting like far more.
NEXT TIME I would definitely serve a creamy smooth version of this soup like Luisa's as a dinner party starter; just strain out the solids through a strainer or my favorite chinois.
DECEMBER 2006 UPDATE I made this soup again for a family gathering. It was a big hit, everyone slurped up the last drops. Because the soup is so light, it pairs well with crusty bread, good cheese and sandwich meat for a complete meal. I did strain the soup but prefer it with the homely fiber.
2008 UPDATE This lovely celery soup recipe was originally published in 2006, just as I was ending that first mad of year of cooking a vegetable in a new way, every single day. Now that I'm revisiting favorite recipes, again and again I'm pleased that the recipes taste just as good the second time around. This is a classic vegetable soup recipe, so spare and simple. And in days of rising food prices, it's also cheap to make -- a bunch of gorgeous celery this week was only $.99, so almost $.50 a pound.
CREAM of CELERY SOUP
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time to table: 60 minutes
Makes 7 cups
5 cups good chicken stock (I had 4 cups homemade turkey stock, it seemed plenty)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (the inspiring recipe called for 3 tablespoons)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 Idaho potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced (see ALANNA's TIPS)
1 bunch celery, trimmed, in 1/2 inch pieces (about 10 ribs, I put in the leaves and everything)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (see TIPS)
2 tablespoons cream, optional (I didn't use any)
Bring the stock to a boil in the microwave. (This is a time-saving tip that can be omitted if there's no rush.)
Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over MEDIUM HIGH til shimmery. Add the onion and stir well to coat with fat. Let the onion cook, stirring often, while prepping the potato and celery. Add the potato and celery and stir to coat with fat. Let cook until the broth is hot, then add it. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to MEDIUM (or the temperature required for a slow simmer). Cook until celery is soft, 20 - 30 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper.
In two or three batches for safety, puree in a food processor or blender til smooth. (The job's too much for an immersion blender.) For an ultra smooth elegant version, strain out the solids and add cream. Serve and enjoy!
The purpose of the starchy potato is to thicken the soup. With no potato on hand, I used 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice for thickening.
Some folks say that white pepper has little flavor. For color purposes, it would be especially advisable if you're making an 'elegant' version. I was plain out so just used black pepper.