Celery never gets much love. It’s the quiet workhouse in stews and casseroles; the under-appreciated, slightly dried out crunch on appetiser platters; the cast-aside, somewhat soggy garnish to buffalo chicken wings. But like many unsung heroes, if you let it be the star of the show it can surprise you with its ready charisma and easy charm. (Side note on this theme: everyone should be watching ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’).
It’s also at its best at this time of year, bursting forth in great green healthy clumps; cheap, cheerful and ready to impress after a winter hugging the ground. It’s celery’s time.
In terms of cooking celery, roasting it in a hot oven with a bit of oil over it works incredibly well, as doing so both concentrates its savoury flavour and makes it nicely tender; as well giving it a richness that’s just not there in the raw form.
This simple soup brings out the best in these qualities, heightening the savouriness of it alongside roasted garlic and a little cheese to make a comforting, wonderfully satisfying bowlful. It’s also very easy, and if not exactly speedy then certainly effortless, making it ideal for a light springtime lunch with friends.
ROASTED GARLIC & CELERY SOUP
I’ve topped my bowls with tiny mustard greens and pea shoots from the farmers’ market at Notting Hill Gate, but any herbs or a handful of watercress would work brilliantly with this soup too.
(“Springtime, the only pretty ring time”, trilled an old lady, examining the armful of spring shoots I’d picked out as I brought them up to the grower to pay. I laughed and said I’d never heard that expression before, and she responded as if it was perfectly obvious “Well of course you haven’t, I’m an octogenarian”. Down the road in Waterstones, a sales assistant who was German asked me in careful English had I been to the market and what was I planning to do with my great bag of celery that afternoon; theatrically drinking in the smell from across the counter all the while. It’s funny how people react to vegetables.)
6 stems of fresh celery, leaves removed
2 medium sized white potatoes, peeled & diced
1 full bulb of garlic
2 medium sized white onions, peeled & diced
1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
200 ml milk
Splash of cream
50g mature cheddar, cubed
Small knob of butter
Salt & black pepper
Pea shoots or fresh herbs to garnish
Preheat your oven to 180°c and place the celery stems in a large baking dish along with the unpeeled bulb of garlic. Drizzle a little olive oil over the whole dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper, cover with scrunched baking parchment or wrap the dish with tin foil and place in a hot oven to roast for 35 minutes. After the celery has been in the oven for 25 mins, begin sautéeing the onion in the butter. Once golden, add the potato cubes and continue to fry. Remove the celery and garlic from the oven. Roughly chop the celery and add to the saucepan. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skin and add them also (don’t worry about the quantity, roasting them will have reduced all of the harshness from their flavour, so they will just add a mild, rounded, almost caramelised sweetness to the soup). Add the stock, the cheese, a small splash of white wine if you have a bottle open (just leave it out if not), and the milk. Simmer at a high temperature for around 10 mins then blend with a hand blender or food processor. Once smooth, push the soup through a sieve, pressing it through firmly with a wooden spoon so that most of the soup reemerges but the strings from the celery are left behind, ready to be discarded. Add a little cream to the sieved soup, test the seasoning and heat through once again. Serve with a tangle of fresh herbs or spring shoots on top of each bowl and fresh bread on the side.