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Stalking the elusive black celery.

(post, Judith Klinger)

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Black Celery from Trevi

No, black celery is not the stuff you find in the back of the fridge.  
It’s a much revered type of celery that can only be grown in Umbria in the area around the picturesque town of Trevi. The town seems to be literally spilling down a mountainside, almost in defiance of gravity. 
This celery variety, Apium graveolens L. var. dulce (Mill.) has earned IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status along with Cannara onions, Lago Trasimeno beans, faro from Monteleone di Spoleto, saffron from Cascia and other products unique to Umbria. 

Trevi loves it’s black celery so much that they’ve been holding the Sagra del Sedano e della Salsiccia” since 1965.  This year we made it our business to get to Trevi to experience this famous black celery. The first thing you notice, aside from the fact that is some honkin’ big celery, is that it’s not black. The leaves are a very dark green but even in the dark, they don’t look black. 

There is something quaint, and slightly mad about seeing crates of celery stacked up and people lugging around big bags of celery. I’m sure it’s my US perspective, where celery is this generic crunchy stuff without much flavor, so to see true passion for celery, well, it just warmed my heart on a very cold night. 

Now that I had my bunches of celery, and was carrying around a bag just like a local, I started to wonder what exactly was I supposed to do with them? We took a walk around the vendors who were selling black celery products and most of them were a ‘crema’ de sedano with sausage or truffles.  Restaurant menus also offered mainly ‘crema’ preparations, so we staggered around with our celery bag still a bit mystified by the cult of the black celery. 

Arriving back in Montone, I was seized by inspiration! Give one of my huge bunches to Margie and let her figure out what to do with it! Ha! Half of my dilemma solved. We stood around in her kitchen munching on the flavorful (but my no means earth shatteringly tasty) celery stalks. Assessing the celery like wine we came up with: somewhat woody character with a good celery flavor. Maybe you need to cook it. 

The next morning I had to face my celery and deal with it.  I cut off the huge, dark leaves and made a vat of richly flavored celery stock. The stalks I chopped into finger length pieces, put them in a clay pot with a very small amount of water and braised them for about 2 hours, and then I pureed the braised celery into green mush. 

My first experiment was “sedano nero e patate puree”, or “celery mush mixed with pureed potatoes” which I used as a bed under roasted quail. Not bad at all!

These are approximate quantities:
1 cup of celery puree
1 cup of potato puree (boiled, salted, potatoes put through a ricer and combined with a few tablespoons of olive oil)

Next, I had to try the sausage and celery combination as this seemed to be the most classic preparation. 
Celery & Sausage Sauce

1 medium sliced onion
1 cup of pork sausage meat
1 cup of celery puree
½ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
4-5 thinly sliced artichoke hearts (optional)

Put a large pot of water on to boil the pasta and begin cooking the pasta as soon as the water boils because this sauce only takes about 5 minutes to cook.  I used orchiette pasta, which made for a toothsome, hearty dish.
Sauté the sausage meat and the onion, when the meat is brown add the pureed celery, artichoke hearts, and white wine. Gently simmer. About 2-3 minutes before the pasta is cooked, add the cream and check the seasonings.  In Italy, it is common to buy pre-seasoned ground sausage filling, which is usually heavily salted so I’ve learned to be extra careful about not adjusting salt levels until ready to serve. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit of the pasta water to loosen things up.

I realize that not everyone is going to have access to ‘sedano nero’, so I think you could adjust the braised celery described above by adding a bit of parsley and the celery leaves to the braising pot.  You’d need to experiment on your own if you wanted to discard the parsley and leaves before pureeing. You might also consider using Chinese celery which has much thinner stalks, more leaves and is very flavorful; however it is meant to be cooked and not eaten raw as it is rather tough. And here is your celery trivia of the day: most of the nutrients in celery are in the leaves so consider using them in salads and stews.

Deborah Mele on ItalianFoodForever describes a black celery pesto that she made and that sounds yummy. 

I’ve been singing the praises of celery for ages, and it’s good to know I’m not alone!