Celery is at the top of the “dirty dozen” vegetables that harbor pesticides at the highest level. It basically has no “skin,” so whatever sprays, stays. Invisible, possibly toxic. It’s a vegetable that I happen to love raw and cooked, and is part of the triumvirate of vegetables known as “mirepoix,” which starts many a European dish, the other two being onions and carrots. Our CSA grows celery so I do get to enjoy it, though they do not produce the thick, juicy stalks we are accustomed to from the supermarket. So why am I telling you this when I’m presenting a celery soup? Just to say, buy your celery from a reliable organic source.
My refrigerator was harboring a large stalk of organic celery with plentiful leaves when I was about to leave on a business trip, so I decided it was a good candidate for soup to nourish the household left behind. I braised the celery and some local leeks in homemade chicken stock and then pureed half to make the liquid soup base, including raw leaves of both celery and the edgy celery-like herb lovage. (You can make this without the lovage, or substitute another green herb like parsley, or even a few spinach leaves.) The other half of the celery braise was added to make a chunky soup that I garnished with additional celery and lovage leaves. This simple soup has layers of flavor because of the combination of raw and cooked, smooth and chunky. It was better the next day, but perfectly fine hot off the stove. If you want a more full-bodied soup, add rice or wild rice and possibly some Parmesan cheese.
Celery and Lovage Soup
1 stalk organic celery
A few sprigs of lovage (or substitute other herbs like parsley, or more celery leaves)
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 qt (4 c) homemade or good quality chicken stock, or use vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste (needs little or none since celery is naturally salty)
Optional: ¼ c white rice or wild rice, grated Parmesan cheese
Separate the celery stalks and clean them. Pull the “strings” from the larger stalks, if necessary. Chop the entire stalk into ¼-inch or ½-inch pieces, leaves included, but cut off the root base. Reserve half of the leaves.
Melt the butter or warm the oil in a large pot. Add the celery, leeks, and few sprigs of lovage and cook slowly, with the pan covered, until the celery and leeks are softened, about 10 minutes.
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. (Add the rice now if using.) Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft (and rice is cooked).
Puree half of the soup and mix with the remaining, chunkier half. Snip fresh herbs over the top to serve. .