Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sedano e Pomodori Brasati (Braised Celery and Tomato)

In the almost 2 years since we started receiving a weekly farmbox of fresh produce, I've stumbled across two vegetable recipes (one for broccoli, the other for peppers) that are simple, amazingly tasty, and have become go-to side dishes for the Hackknife household. I think I may have found a third one to add to that list. We had a bunch of cut-up celery hearts left over from Hackknife Jr.'s 6th birthday party that I didn't want to waste. Coincidentally, there was an article in the October 2011 issue of Saveur on long-cooked vegetables, and in the article was a recipe for braised celery and tomatoes (or sedano e pomodori brasati, for those of you who are Italian speakers) provided courtesy of Marcella Hazan, one of the pioneers of Italian-American cooking. I tried a Joy of Cooking braised celery dish a while back that turned out, shall we say, less than stellar, so I was a bit skeptical about this one, although the fact that it contained pancetta (Italian bacon) certainly helped brighten my outlook.

I picked up about 1/4 lb. of sliced pancetta from the local Italian grocery and needed a little more celery to round out my ingredients. After about 2 hours total cook time (most of which was simple, low-maintenance braising), I had a pot of reduced, high-concentrated celery to go with some simple pasta. Wow! I will never figure out how essentially 5 ingredients (celery, pancetta, onions, tomatoes, and olive oil, not counting salt and pepper) can make such a kick-ass, life-affirming vegetable side dish (or a great topping for plain pasta, as I discovered). It was everything I could do not to eat the whole pot, including the share I set aside for Mrs. Hackknife, who was out of town on business. I suspect that the jacked-up flavor profile came from the smoky, salty pancetta and its rendered fat, which you use as the cooking base for the onions (although I must say that there really wasn't much fat left in the pot - it was mostly the olive oil doing the cooking). Regardless, I'll never look at celery the same way again. Molto bene....

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