This is a remarkably simple recipe but the results were really pretty outstanding. Also a good opportunity to use celery as a very healthy and slightly unusual main vegetable.
The key secret was to shave off the stringy part of the celery using a potato peeler, leaving on the tender part behind.
- 2 large bunches crisp, fresh celery
- 3 tablespoons onion chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup chopped pancetta OR prosciutto
- Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
- 2 cups Basic Homemade Meat Broth OR ½ cup canned beef broth diluted with 1½ cups water
- An oven-to-table baking dish
- 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 1. Cut off the celery’s leafy tops, and detach all the stalks from their base. Save the hearts for a salad or for dipping in Pinzimonio. Use a swiveling-blade peeler to pare away most of the strings, and cut the stalks into pieces about 3 inches long.
- 2. Bring 2 or 3 quarts of water to a rapid boil, drop in the celery, and 1 minute after the water has returned to a boil, drain them and set them aside.
- 3. Preheat oven to 400°
- 4. Put the onion and butter in a saucepan, and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the chopped pancetta or prosciutto. Stir to coat well, cook for 1 minute, then put in the celery, salt, and pepper, toss the celery to coat it well, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- 5. Add the broth, adjust heat to cook at a very gentle simmer, and cover the pan. Cook until the celery feels tender when prodded. Test the celery from time to time with a fork and when you find that it is nearly done—almost tender, but slightly firm—uncover the pan, raise the heat to high, and boil away all the liquid.
- 6. Remove only the celery to the baking dish and arrange it with the inner, concave side of the stalks facing up. Over the celery, spoon the onion and pancetta or prosciutto mixture still in the pan, then top with grated Parmesan. Place on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts and forms a light crust. After taking the dish out of the oven, allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.
Ahead-of-time note The celery can be prepared up to this point several hours in advance on the same day that you will finish cooking it.