Black Celery from Trevi

by

Sedano Nero, Black Celery, Trevi

 

No, black celery is not the stuff you find in the back of
the fridge. 

It’s a much revered type of celery that can only be grown in
Umbria in the area around the picturesque town of Trevi. The town seems to be literally
spilling down a mountainside, almost in defiance of gravity.

This celery variety, Apium graveolens L.
var. dulce (Mill.)
has
earned
IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status along with Cannara
onions, Lago Trasimeno beans, faro from Monteleone di Spoleto, saffron from
Cascia and other products unique to Umbria.

 

Trevi loves it’s black celery so much that they’ve been
holding the "Sagra del Sedano e della
Salsiccia
since 1965. 
This year we made it our business to get to Trevi to experience this famous
black celery. The first thing you notice, aside from the fact that this is some
honkin’ big celery, is that it’s not black. The leaves are a very dark green
but even in the dark, they don’t look black.

Sagra del Sedano, Trevi

There is something quaint, and slightly mad about seeing
crates of celery stacked up and people lugging around big bags of celery. I’m
sure it’s my US perspective, where celery is this generic crunchy stuff without much flavor, so to see true passion for celery, well, it just warmed my heart
on a very cold night.

 Now that I had my two giant bunches of celery, and we were carrying around
a bag just like the locals, I started to wonder what exactly was I supposed to do
with this bounty? We took a walk around the vendors who were selling black celery
products and most of them were a ‘crema’ de sedano with sausage or
truffles.  Restaurant menus also offered
mainly ‘crema’ preparations, so we staggered around with our celery bag still a
bit mystified by the cult of the black celery.

 Arriving back in Montone, I was seized by inspiration! Give
one of my huge bunches to Margie and let her figure out what to do with it! Ha!
Half of my dilemma solved. We stood around in her kitchen munching on the
flavorful (but my no means earth shatteringly tasty) celery stalks. Assessing
the celery like wine we came up with: somewhat woody character with a good
celery flavor. Maybe you need to cook it.

 The next morning I had to face my celery and deal with
it.  I cut off the huge, dark
leaves and made a vat of richly flavored celery stock. The stalks I chopped
into finger length pieces, put them in a clay pot with a very small amount of
water and braised them for about 2 hours. Then I pureed the braised celery
into a fragrant green mush, oh, I mean puree.

 My first experiment was “sedano nero e patate puree”, or “celery
mush mixed with pureed potatoes” which I used as a bed under roasted quail. Not
bad at all!

 These are approximate quantities:

1 cup of braised celery puree

1 cup of potato puree (boiled, salted, potatoes put through
a ricer and combined with a few tablespoons of olive oil)

 This would be a nice side dish all on its own, for those times when you are tired of just plain potatoes.

 Next, I had to try the sausage and celery combination as
this seemed to be the most classic Trevi preparation.


Celery & Sausage Sauce

Sedano, Salsiccia and Orchiette Pasta

1 medium sliced onion

1 cup of pork sausage meat

1 cup of celery puree

½ cup white wine

¼ cup heavy cream

4-5 thinly sliced artichoke hearts (optional)

 

Put a large pot of water on to boil the pasta and begin
cooking the pasta as soon as the water boils because this sauce only takes
about 5 minutes to cook.  I used
orchiette pasta, which made for a toothsome, hearty dish.

 

Sauté the sausage meat and the onion, when the meat is brown
add the pureed celery, artichoke hearts, and white wine. Gently simmer. About
2-3 minutes before the pasta is cooked, add the cream and check the seasonings.  In Italy, it is common to buy
pre-seasoned ground sausage filling, which is usually heavily salted so I’ve
learned to be extra careful about not adjusting salt levels until ready to
serve. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit of the pasta water to loosen
things up.

 I realize that not everyone is going to have access to
‘sedano nero’, so I think you could adjust the braised celery described above
by adding a bit of parsley and the celery leaves to the braising pot.  You’d need to experiment on your own if
you want to discard the parsley and leaves before pureeing. You might also
consider using Chinese celery which has much thinner stalks, more leaves and is
very flavorful; however it is meant to be cooked and not eaten raw as it is
rather tough. And here is your celery trivia of the day: most of the nutrients
in celery are in the leaves so consider using them in salads and stews.

Deborah Mele on ItalianFoodForever describes a black celery
pesto that she made and that sounds yummy.

 I’ve been singing the praises of celery for ages, and it’s
good to know I’m not alone!

 P.S. My trusty camera is in the hospital. It had a focus
seizure and had to be rushed to the ER. I’m using a little hand held video
camera thing to take stills and its like shooting with a blindfold on. So, for
the next 10 days or so, my shots will be more ‘artistic’ than usual. Pray for a speedy recovery!

 

 

 

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