As with many of the vegetables I get in my Tucson CSA shares, the celery is unlike the stuff I grew up eating: the bloated, pale green, mostly flavorless, industrially grown variety. I never really knew the story behind that celery––the climate it grew in, the far-off land it sprouted from, or the workers who labored tirelessly to get it to my grocery store. The disconnect between my food and me added to the lack of regard and love I held for the fibrous plant. In my home, where food came from far away, celery was no star… it was just there. Celery was the translucent vegetable in my chicken soup; an excuse to eat spoonfuls of Skippy peanut butter and call it a healthy snack; an ingredient in mom’s clean-out-the-fridge salad. The celery of my childhood was flavorless, clean of every imperfection and speck of dirt, and barren of its frilly leaves. It was the not the local Tucson CSA celery I have come to know and love.
Along with countless other things, my CSA has changed the way I think about celery by introducing me to organic celery that is locally grown with integrity and delivered with passion and respect. Thanks to local farmers and Tucson CSA, celery is no longer a vegetable that I avoid–it is the best part of my favorite dishes. Why? Local celery, colored a dark, vibrant green all the way to its core, is beautiful. Local celery, intensely and flavored by the familiar soils of southern Arizona, is delicious. Local celery, handed to me by the Tucson CSA volunteers I have come to befriend and adore, connects me with one of the best parts of my community. Local celery sticks with you long after you leave the CSA.
When you get home with your local celery, submerge it in a large bowl (or sink) of water and allow the gritty sand between its stalks to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Set it on a kitchen towel to dry while you eat dinner or do whatever it is that you like to do in the evening. Then, use a large knife to separate the celery leaves from the stalks and store the two separately. When stored properly in the fridge, celery should keep for a few weeks.
Use a few stalks of local celery in your soffritto–sautéed celery, carrots, and onion–to add a lovely flavor to hearty stews, like my favorite Spring Vegetable Minestrone. Adding celery to soups, stalks, and stews, even if it isn’t called for in the recipe, is an easy way to use a large bunch of the green stuff. (If nothing else, a quick sautée of celery, onions, and carrots can make any house smell like home in a matter of minutes.) Or, pickle it to use for snacks and condiments. To pickle your celery, slice it at an angle and add it to a mason jar filled with equal parts water and white wine vinegar, a few teaspoons of kosher salt, and a little sugar. Eat your pickles straight from the jar, or save them in the fridge to add to mustardy potato salads and sandwiches in need of a pick-me-up. Use your celery leaves the same way you might use any leafy herb: chop them finely and add them to scrambled eggs, pasta dishes, and salads. Or, for a condiment that goes well with damn-near everything, use celery leaves in my recipes for Celery Greens and Lemon Pesto.