It doesn't sound very tempting, does it? Who wants to eat leeks and celery, apart from rabbits and rabid vegetarians? How tempting is a recipe that contains nine vowels of the E variety? But this dish is just delicious, and I urge you to give it a try.
I have frothing fountains of celery growing in the narrow strip I call my vegetable garden, and I've been scratching my head trying to think what to do with all the celery, before it goes to seed. I'm really not mad about the texture and taste of celery, although I do understand the logic of adding a few pared toenails of the stuff to stews, stocks and soups, especially when a few nuggets of crispy bacon are involved. I have about 95 litres of celery soup in the freezer, cunningly frozen in 500-ml zip-lock bags (that's what I did with last year's crop; I even labelled and dated them, Martha-Stewart style), but frankly all they've been useful for is ice-packery when someone's sprained an ankle or walked into a door.
Anyway, this recipe came about because my husband mentioned, out of the blue, that his late mum (a wonderful cook) used to cook whole stalks of celery in a cheesy white sauce.
I had a jugful of the same in the fridge, plus a big bowl of left-over mash, and here is the result. It was so tasty, and even better the next day, when the leeky and celeryish flavours delivered a smart punch to my tastebuds.
Potato-topped Celery and Leek Pie
For the cheesy white sauce (note: these measurements are approximate; the final thickness of the sauce depends on the strength of the flour. If the sauce seems too thick, thin it down with more milk. )
3 T (45 ml) butter
3 T (45 ml) white cake or bread flour
750 ml cold milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar or other sharp cheese
2 tsp (5-1o ml) Dijon or wholegrain mustard
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
For the pie:
2 T (30 ml) olive oil
4 fat leeks, trimmed, rinsed and finely sliced
8-10 sticks young celery, trimmed of all green leaves and finely sliced
1/2 cup (125 ml) chicken or vegetable stock, or white wine
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt and milled black pepper
For the topping:
2 cups (500 ml) mashed potato, warmed
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
First make the cheesy white sauce. Put the flour and the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Using a whisk, stir briskly until the butter melts, and allow to cook for two minutes. Now tip in a cup or so of the cold milk, whisking well as you pour. When the mixture begins to thicken, add the remaining milk, turn up the heat to its fullest setting, and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened and come to the boil. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and allow it to bubble gently for another two minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the grated cheese, the mustard and the lemon juce. Add salt and pepper.
Set aside (put a piece of clingfilm or waxed paper on the top of sauce, to prevent a skin forming, if you're making it in advance).
Heat the olive oil in a deep pan or wok and add the leeks and celery. Stir-fry, over a fierce heat, for a minute or so, but don't allow the veggies to brown. Now add the stock or wine, and allow to bubble furiously for a minute. Cover the pot with a lid or a piece of tin foil, turn the heat to its lowest setting, and allow to simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the celery is just tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Tip the reserved cheesy white sauce into the leek and celery pan and stir well to combine. Tip the mixture into a serving dish, smooth the surface, and top with mashed potato. Brush with melted butter (or peanut-sized bits of cold butter) and bake at 180 C until the potato topping is golden brown.