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A celery-soup celebration

(article, Adam Ried)

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¡Hola Culination! Before I begin this new post, I wanted to note and apologize for my unintended absence over the past few months, due to a bit of bad luck and some resulting distractions. Matters are much improved now, and I’m happy to be back.

Rife with ritual as this time of year is, lately I’ve been more inclined to shake up the rituals of my life than to follow them blindly. (Perhaps this results from kitchen renovation construction dust clogging my head.)


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Take this most recent Thanksgiving, for instance. It’s no news that flying on the days leading up to or just after Thanksgiving is expensive and crowded, but it’s a different story on the day itself: Airports are deserted, planes offer some breathing room, and fares are more reasonable. While many folks wouldn’t dream of boarding a plane on Thanksgiving day, I’m delighted to avail myself of the advantages of flying on the fourth Thursday in November. If it means a Thanksgiving meal somewhat less traditional than turkey and stuffing — say, sliced fennel brought from home, Chex mix from a vending machine, and a mocha from the lone open coffee place (not even a Starbucks!) in Terminal C at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, then so be it. Fine by me. In fact, I embrace it.
Christmas will have some of the same spontaneity this year. Cards, cookies, lights, decorations, cheesy holiday music — I’m a Yuletide enthusiast with the best of them. And most years I dive in headlong. This year I've got plenty of lights and wreaths decorating the house. (Ours is always the only one on the block so bedecked, and I think the neighbors have come to rely on us for this bit of seasonal cheer.) But we're changing things up a little, too.

By the time you read this, our kitchen renovation should be freshly wrapped up, but that doesn't leave enough time to clean up, move in, unpack the apartment, set up the kitchen, and figure out the new oven before Christmas. Instead, it’s looking like all of that will commence on Christmas Eve. Of course, that means that we’ll either skip entirely, or at least postpone, the usual Christmas rituals.  

Honestly, that works for me. I’m not the least bit annoyed that we won’t be settled in time. To the contrary, I’m titillated by the prospect of shifting holiday gears. We’ll seize the opportunity to indulge in an idea with which I’ve long flirted but never actually pursued, an event that I characterize (based on what I understand fully to be a painfully outdated stereotype, thank you very much, "Mad Men") as the classic New York Jewish Christmas: dinner in Chinatown and a movie. Perhaps a double feature. I expect the change to feel like a fresh, bracing breeze, complete with fermented black bean sauce.

Chinatown will be like an exclamation point to the more traditional Christmas fun this year. I’ve been to a couple of parties already, including the annual neighborhood cookie-decorating fest, and before it's all over, there will be a holiday concert, a cookie swap, and best of all, an invitation from a new friend with Scandinavian heritage (and a great sense of humor) to her annual smorgasbord. The invitation promises “lots of Jul-ey Svenska music and herring and aquavit.” 

I’ll cop to being something of a Scandiaphile, and my friend is a great cook, so I’m very excited about this. A mutual friend is bringing Santa Lucia buns, and I signed on to make gravlax, probably two kinds — one traditional and another less so, with bourbon, brown sugar, and apples. I’ll also make Jansson’s Temptation, a Swedish potato gratin with onions, cream, pickled sprats (or Swedish-style anchovies), and breadcrumbs. This traditional Swedish Christmas dish has been on my radar for ages, but I’ve never managed to make it — until now. 
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While we’re at it, there’s one more ritual to which I may or may not adhere. There is the matter, you see, of what to cook first in the new kitchen. One possible recipe is my long-standing ceremonial first dish, a take on Patricia Wells’s Soupe aux Deux Céleris, or Double Celery Soup, from her 1989 book Bistro Cooking (still one of my favorites, after all these years). 

It’s a soup based on both the familiar green stalk celery (high on the list of underappreciated vegetables, in my view) and the knobbly white celeriac, or celery root. I happened to have both on hand many years ago as I opened a gift from my sister, a gorgeous deep green Le Creuset oval French oven. A double-vegetable soup was the perfect recipe to initiate my new green pot. 

Since then, I’ve continued to use this soup — adding a third celery dimension in the form of celery seed — to break in new pots, Dutch ovens, and apartment kitchens. Given my history with this celery soup, it seems like a natural first dish in the new kitchen. 

But as we’ve established, rituals are wavering these days, so I’m not entirely sure.

Even if I don’t make the soup, though, I recommend it enthusiastically to you. In fact, I’ve made this soup for many a Christmas past, and it suits the holiday meal beautifully. Garnished with a small dollop of crème fraîche, a few grains of salmon roe, and some snipped chives (for the requisite red and green), it’s an elegant and unexpected start to a splashy meal filled with rich foods and earthy winter flavors. 

The soup is equally at home in a more casual setting, too, alongside some cheese, bread, and a salad for a simple winter supper in your kitchen, be it old . . . or new.

p(bio). Adam Ried writes about food and cooking from Boston.

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