Available all year round
Celery is as English as the Stilton cheese it’s often partnered with: fresh, crunchy and crisp in the autumn, it is perhaps enjoyed best of all with a good cheese board, some fresh-shelled walnuts and a glass of vintage port. Originally, the older varieties of so-called ‘dirty’ celery from the flat black-earthed Fenlands of East Anglia had a short season – from October to January.
If you’re lucky enough to eat some, there is much washing to do, but the flavour is exceptional, particularly after a light frost, when it’s sweetest of all. However, a really severe frost can wipe the whole crop out, so growing it can be a hazardous occupation, and in the past during hard winters there was sometimes none available. English Fenland growers have overcome this by not only developing new varieties that can be grown in summer, but have also overcome the severities of a British winter by growing English varieties in the warm climate of Spain. This means extremely good celery is available practically all year round, with a gap from about April to June. If you can get ‘dirty’ celery in November it is worth all the tedious washing, but it’s also good to have English varieties available all year.
To prepare: First of all, remove the tough, large, outer stalks, and as these are usually distinctively stringy, take a sharp paring knife and pare off the strings. Now trim off the outer skin around the root and cut the head vertically, so that some of the sweet, edible root is still intact, then cut into 6-8 layered vertical strips.
Celery has such a lot going for it as a raw ingredient in salads, and because of that we rather forget how good it is cooked and served as a vegetable. This method is delightfully quick and easy, and tastes just wonderful.
Fresh stocks are now available in tubs from supermarkets, but if you need a large quantity these can be expensive. Powdered, gluten-free vegetable stock, made by Marigold, is widely available – an excellent storecupboard standby.
This is a truly sublime soup, as the cauliflower and Roquefort seem to meld together so well, but I have also tried it with mature Cheddar, and I'm sure it would be good with any cheese you happen to have handy. More good news – it takes little more
This potato salad, with creamy, piquant Roquefort and the added crunch of celery and shallots, is good to eat all by itself, but I also like to serve it with cold cuts at a buffet lunch. It's therefore a very good recipe to have around at Christmas.
This is a great way to serve celery as a vegetable. I used silicone paper (baking parchment) for this as it looks very pretty if you take the whole parcel to the table – otherwise foil would do. For 4 to 6 people, you can double the ingredients...