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Don't chuck the celery ... make some tasty soup

Save-The-Celery Soup, sprinkled with toasted almonds and served in small cups, is a nice beginning to a meal from the grill. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 3
You can find uses for produce that appears to be on its last legs, like celery, parsley, carrots and pears. Photo by Sue Doeden3 / 3

Any other time, I wouldn't give a second glance to a recipe for celery soup. I use celery when I make a pot of stock, and sometimes I add it to salads and slaws. It goes into mirepoix to use as a flavorful base for sauces, soups and stews. But unless its ribs are filled with peanut butter and dotted with soft raisins, I ignore celery.

I read an article the other day about the results of an online audience poll that San Francisco's Bi-Rite Market conducted. In an effort to help their customers cut down on food waste, they asked them what food they wasted most. Can you guess what the top four most-wasted foods were? Fresh herbs, citrus, sour cream and celery. The store's staff developed recipes and tips to help customers use those four foods while they are still fresh and flavorful.

Other than the sour cream, which I remember getting moldy in my refrigerator only a couple of times in my life (I'm Hungarian, remember), I could definitely relate to the other three responses.

I went to my refrigerator and found a stalk of celery with yellow leaves and brown ends. I don't remember why I bought it - probably needed just a couple of ribs. A handful of skinny carrots were limp. A very ripe pear was covered with dark brown speckles - way beyond its prime. A bunch of parsley still looked pretty healthy with its stems soaking in a glass of water.

It seemed I should be able to make soup with all of these ingredients. I used a recipe for celery soup I found in a 1992 School Parents Association cookbook as my inspiration. Then I just got creative. That's what makes soup-making so much fun.

I chopped a leek and the skinny carrots which were probably equivalent to one fat carrot, sliced up the aging stalk of celery which was minus only a couple of ribs, and diced an onion. I sautéed them all until they softened. After simmering in broth along with some fresh parsley, a bay leaf and a few sprigs of thyme from my garden for about an hour, I pureed the soup in my blender.

I learned something new about the green celery ribs with leaves that tickle my cheek when I drink a Bloody Mary. They have a salty character. Before I added any salt or pepper to the pureed soup, I tasted it. The celery had released its slightly anise-like flavor to the soup, along with an underlying note of salt. With this in mind, be sure to taste the soup before you grab the salt shaker.

The thick, velvety soup is complex with herbal notes and undertones of sweet earthiness. My favorite guy, with his discerning taste buds that can detect exact seasonings in foods he eats, was certain I had slipped some curry powder into the soup. Ha, he was fooled.

Sprinkled with toasted almonds and served in small cups, Save-the-Celery Soup is a nice beginning to a meal from the grill. For something different, spoon some of the hot soup over a grilled chicken breast and sprinkle with toasted almonds. The soup is good over cooked brown basmati rice and sprinkled with almonds.

To practice responsible waste management in the kitchen, make soup.

Save-The-Celery Soup

1 large leek

1 stalk of celery or at least 8 ribs

1 large carrot, diced

1 onion, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil

1 ripe pear, peeled, cored, chopped

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

3 sprigs fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted, chopped

Remove and discard root and tough outer leaves of leek. Cut top off of leek where dark green color of leaves begins to turn pale. Slice leek in half lengthwise. Separate layers and rinse them in a bowl of cool water. Drain and chop.

Separate ribs of celery and wash thoroughly. Remove leaves. Save some for garnish and the rest for tossing into a green salad. Thinly slice celery.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven. Toss in the chopped leek, sliced celery, diced carrot and onion and cook, stirring often, for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the chopped pear and stir into the vegetable mixture. Add the broth, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer for about an hour.

Pull out the bay leaf. If you can, remove what's left of the parsley and thyme. Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with toasted slivered almonds and celery leaves. Makes about 6 cups.

Tips from the cook

--By most definitions, a whole head of celery is a stalk and a single "stick" from the stalk is a rib.

--To toast slivered almonds, toss them with a drizzle of olive oil or grapeseed oil and put them in a small pan over medium heat. Stir until the almonds are toasted. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and Immediately transfer them to a plate to cool.

--Pureeing the soup in a blender will produce a smoother texture than a food processor.

--To avoid little black specks in the soup, season it with ground white pepper.

--This soup is lovely (and healthful) as is, but if you would like richer soup add 1 or 2 cups of half-and-half.

--When you prepare this soup in the summer, finely chop a garden-fresh tomato and use it as a topping.

--Like many soups, this one tastes even better the second day.