12/07/2012 01:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Get Down & Dirty with Celery


Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more by the numbers.

From the hyperseasonal (ramps and strawberries come to mind) to the unusual (ever wondered how cardoons are grown?), to the quotidien (kitchen workhorses like leeks and garlic), we're highlighting our favorite fruits and vegetables every week.

First we head to the garden. For a variety of reasons, celery can be a challenge to grow for the home gardener. To start, the seeds are tiny -- so tiny that planting them directly into your garden will just give you a headache come time to thin your seedlings. Instead, it's best to start them out in soil blocks or small containers with just 2-4 seeds per block. That way, when they poke their heads out of the soil, it'll be easy to keep the strongest seedlings and discard the rest.

Another challenge for celery growers is the conditions they require: without lots and lots of water (after all, it's most of what those crispy stalks are made of), well-draining and compost-rich soil (like Amy's soil tips in City Dirt!), and relatively cool growing conditions, your celery can become stringy and tough. It's a slow-growing plant -- about 4 months from seed to stalk -- and needs depth for its root structure, prohibiting container gardening.

But hey! Even if it's not the easiest vegetable to grow on your own, around the kitchen it's an essential. Once you finally harvest your celery, every bit of it is useful. Along with carrots and onions, the chopped stalks are a member of the holy triumverate of the mirepoix, the French saute base for soups and stews -- and no Thanksgiving stuffing is complete without those half-moons of stalk. The leaves look festive poking out a pitcher of Bloody Marys, or you can follow the lead of 101 Cookbooks' Heidi Swanson (our Piglet People's Choice Award winner!) and make homemade celery salt. As for the pale and tender inner stalks -- the celery heart -- you can't go wrong with the couscous dish that Amanda's husband made her when they were dating (fans of Cooking for Mr Latte, you know the one I mean).

And dare I forget to mention Ants on a Log, the quintessential playdate snack? (For the uninitiated, a recipe: fill a stalk of celery with peanut butter -- that's the "log" -- and dot it with raisins -- the "ants" -- then serve to happy children.)

There's so much more: the sharper flavor of Chinese celery, celery in homemade green juice, the Italian dish of blanched celery baked in tomato sauce (see the latest Canal House cookbook!)...

How do you cook with celery? Any special plants you'd like to see featured as the Fruit or Vegetable of the Week?