Celery: a humble veggie, commonplace, entirely taken for granted, under appreciated for all she contributes in the kitchen, from soups to stews, sauces to stuffings. She’s no head-turner but she’s no slouch either. There’s a certain grace about her, if you’ll take the time to notice. Still, who sings celery’s praises?
The homely bulbous root of the plant from which she rises (almost proudly) is the sort of thing boys, desperate for a game, would kick around a vacant lot,. Or, even worse, the sort of “good-for-nothing” that’s tossed to the compost. We have far better things in mind.
We recently had a simmering bowl of soup, just right for the changing season, while on a dream trip to the Scottish Highlands. Dipping our spoons into this delicate green, almost featherweight, soup, bringing it to our lips, our wide eyes fixed on each others’ and we audibly sighed, in unison. We hadn’t expected anything like this at all. Which is why I want to talk to you about it, because maybe you wouldn’t have either.
The chef came out to our table after dinner and we asked after the soup. After falling all over him with our compliments, I vowed I’d try (though certainly fall short) of that exquisite bowlful. The chef had created an airiness to this brew by actually injecting air into it. A number of ways you could do this – use an aerating wand made for the purpose, whir it extra long in your powerful blender, or use an emersion blender…or the steaming wand from an espresso machine. They each work pretty well it turns out. But, being practical, like a good Scot, it’s not a necessary step. The bowl is just as delicious without it (though maybe just slightly less Cloud 9-ish.)
A note on the cheese: Apparently celery and English Stilton blue are commonly found together at Christmastime in the UK. Stilton would be fine here, but for this soup, you might prefer a saltier, bluer cheese, like Roquefort. We do.
I’ve promised you (and me) simple things for the season, and this my friends is simple….
Celery & Blue Cheese Soup
celery – a large head
onion – medium
celery root – half a head, about 9 ounces (250g)
butter – a thick slice – OR – fruity mild olive oil – a good drizzle
chicken stock – 4 cups (1 liter) - see NOTE
bay leaf – 1 large or 2 small
blue cheese – 4½ ounces (125g)
NOTE: A vegetable broth may be substituted but you’ll want to be careful that it’s not a powerfully flavored one or the gentle distinction of this soup will be lost…and that would be such a shame!
Wash the celery stocks carefully and chop coarsely. Peel the outside of the celery root and onion and chop. (No need to be fancy.)
Into a deep and wide pan over medium heat, drizzle the olive oil or drop in the slice of butter. Add the vegetables and sauté for about 20 minutes, or until relatively soft. Pour in the stock, add the bay leaf, a dash of white pepper (if you have it) and a good pinch of salt. (Remember that the stock contains salt, and so does the cheese, so be light-handed with it at this point.) Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Place into a blender or food processor. (If you have a powerful VitaMix, bring it out.) Process for a good while as these vegetables are naturally a bit stringier than some others and you want velvet.
You have a choice at this point: Add all the cheese to the pureed soup, and whir again. Add most of it but reserve a bit for scattering on top when serving. Or, divide the cheese into four portions and drop into each of four bowls their share. Stir, but not to completely melt the cheese, allowing each person the pleasure.