Sedano al pomodoro – celery braised with tomatoes

braised celery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until few yrs ago, I never though much of celery. Of course, it is one of the key ingredients of the classic battuto (generally equal quantities of chopped onions, chopped carrots, chopped celery), the basic of so much Italian cooking (fried in some fat, it becomes soffritto) and it is often served raw in pinzimonio, that is to say with other raw vegetables, to be dipped in the  best olive oil. Apart from this,  edano (celery) was a stranger to me. Moreover, I had always associated celery with the cold months only.

The turning point was when I discovered Sicilian caponata, one of the greatest of all summer dishes: here celery plays a crucial role, to add both crunch (and therefore textural contrast to the softness of the fried aubergines) and depth of flavour, with its earthy, sweet, mineral tones. I remember once asking an excellent Sicilian cook why there was a winter ingredient in such a summery dish. She smiled (at my naivety/ignorance, I guess) and she explained to me that in fact sedano is very much a summer and autumn vegetables, hence its starring role in caponata, a summer-early autumn dish. I had grown up with all-year round celery, that I had not even imagined it does have a proper season. This was reinforced when I started shopping from my local farmers’ markets here in London: from late spring until late autumn, I could see huge bunches of leafy celery for sale, intensely green and almost bouncing with energy.
I became more interested in this ingredient: in salads, with meat (pheasant with celery is excellent) and… braised with tomatoes, sedano al pomodoro.
It is a recipe I discovered first in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials and I later learnt it is firmly rooted in the most obscure Italian home cooking.
It is an incredibly tasty little number, which works either as a dish in itself or as a sauce for pasta.

First of all, get hold of some proper celery: a tall, firm, deep-green bunch with all its leaves (no limp, bagged, supermarket celery, please). Boring as it is, you have to string it (otherwise the eating will be unpleasant): I use a potato peeler. Take your time and do a good job here – finesse is the key!  Wash it and cut it up in thick slices. Keep the leaves and chop them coarsely. Leave to drain it.

Meanwhile make a basic tomato sauce: you know, the usual thing : onion and garlic fried in oil, followed by some pelati  (tinned whole tomatoes). You could add some diced pancetta too or some chopped fresh red chilly. The ratio of celery to tomatoes varies of course: this is a positively red dish, so I tend to use generally a couple of cans, unless my bunch of celery is really small.

After you sauce has cooked steadily and rather briskly for ten minutes or so, and it has thickened somehow. add the celery. Turn the flame up, and toss the celery in the sauce few times: this is the all important step called “insaporire”, in Italian, when things get tasty by absorbing the flavoursome base/fat one is using.  Salt it, and let is simmer at a lively but not too high heat, uncovered, for… well.. until it is fully tender. It takes longer than you might think: thirty-forty minutes are not unreasonable.  This is supposed to be a moist but not soupy dish and by the end there should not be any sigh of wateriness

I sometimes add a handful of grated pecorino, at the very end for extra savouriness. In autumn I also add, halfway through, few tablespoons of red wine, for a deeper taste.
Eat at room temperature. Great on toasted bread, with a coddled egg, with mozzarella, crumbled feta ecc…

 

19 thoughts on “Sedano al pomodoro – celery braised with tomatoes

  1. Ciao Stef. I use a lot of celery, but rarely as the centerpiece as my husband doesn’t care for it. It is also important in coda alla vaccinara. I like the idea of sedano al pomodoro and will risk serving it to my husband. Interesting that you mention celery should be green. In Dutch it is called bleekselderij, and bleek = bleech (related of course to the word Blanco/Bianco). If it’s white, the flavor is not as bitter.

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    1. ciao stef
      hope celery does not create a gastronomic spat 🙂
      celery green or white: I have never tasted white celery. generally here it is the green variety. I do like its strong taste actually, but I am curious now to try the white one, in salad perhaps

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      1. Well it did cause a gastronomic spat — my husband flat out refused to eat it after spitting out the first bite. I liked it though — will be on my blog soon.

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  2. I make a salad similar to Laura’s nonna’s, it makes such a pleasant change from the usual onion. My sister puts finely chopped celery in guacamole, too, which I thought was weird until I tried it. It’s delicious. And pheasant and celery is a classic. I love your treatment here, will certainly try it when ?I can get some decent celery. Thanks, Stef.

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  3. When I make caponata, I blanch the celery before adding it to the sauce (only for about 1 minute or so). I wonder if blanching the celery in this case might work? No harm trying I suppose. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I read that celery is very very good for people who suffer from high blood pressure. Thanks for showing us this recipe, and I agree wtih Frank Fariello !

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    1. ciao jo… I never blanch celery for caponata (and I should try, just to see if there is any different): I pan fry it and I also add some chopped celery hearts and leaves when the caponata si cold
      I also like chopped celery in mayo for sarnies

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  4. My English grandmother used to chop celery into tomato based dishes and I never acquired the taste of cooked celery, although I love it raw. I wonder if it was because she never peeled it. I will try this thank you.

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    1. ciao Judy… I wonder… I peel it because I really do not like it if it is stringy…. if u r not sure about the taste, maybe u could try just a couple of sticks in a mini tom sauce… let me know.. I am curious
      stef

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  5. I do love dishes that make ingredients we usually think of as “supporting actors” the star of the show. This dish has been on my “to do” list for a while now but somehow I keep forgetting about it. I adore celery, even enjoying it on its own as a snack when I don’t want to fill up. Stewing it “in umido” sounds like a particularly tasty way to enjoy it.

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    1. ah… thanks Frank!… “in umido”.. it has been sulla punta della lingua since yesterday, but I could not remember it.. better name: sedano in umido al pomodoro. if u check my instagram feed..people left many useful tips and ideas re celery

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  6. My nonna Laura always added chopped celery, from the most tender inner stalks, I suppose the heart of the celery, to her tomato salad in summer. A simple dish with a little garlic (enough for a very mild flavour) and naturally lots of EVO and vinegar optional. It is delicious and the celery is amazing with the tomatoes. I can still visualise nonna’s absolute delight as she mopped up those glorious juices with beautiful crusty bread.
    Laura

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    1. ciao Laura.. I really like the sound of this and I will try – thanks. on tomato salad: have u ever tried the garlic scented tomato salad from Hazan’s Essentials? it is really special: u marinate lots of garlic in vinegar and then u dress ur salad with this, adding oil (even If I do like it also without oil)… I will not try ur suggestion

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