Friday, February 24, 2006

Such High Hopes

I really had high hopes for this dish. One of my favorite FoodTV chefs to watch is Mario Batali, and this was my first attempt at cooking out of his new book, Molto Italiano. While it certainly won't be the last recipe out of the book, it was a disappointing start. Stuffed Celery or Sedani Ripieni is prepared in a simple Roman manner. The celery is first blanched and then two pieces of celery hold a meatball in between them. This assembly is fried and then braised to completion in a simple tomato sauce. It was a little time consuming to make, although there are certainly steps that could be done ahead. But for the time it took, it just didn't have the Wow factor I so desperately wanted out of the dish. The preparation was unique, and it really smelled good cooking. Then came the tasting.

That first bite I made sure I had some of everything on my fork. A piece of celery, the meatball, the breading, and tomato sauce. I popped it in my mouth and waited to be wowed. It just wasn't there. There was a serious lack of depth to the meatball itself, and that translated to the celery that surrounded it. What it did have was a freshness. You could taste each individual element, and the tomato sauce was bright and refreshing. If I were to make this again, first of all, I would cook the celery in a broth or stock for added flavor. Then I would add garlic and basil to the meatball, as well as seasoning to the dredging flour. I think all those elements could be tinkered with. I'm not entirely sure I'll pull this recipe out again, but it certainly gets points for uniqueness, and it used a whole bunch of celery- so I'm down to 2 left, and one more dish for my challenge- watch for that tomorrow night. Until then, I will leave you with the recipe for Stuffed Celery courtesy of Mario Batali. I served it with cheese tortellini to soak up some of the excess sauce and a simple chopped salad. Overall, it was a nice dinner, and the celery was surprisingly filling. If you look closely in the picture you can see the meatball being flanked by the two pieces of celery.

Stuffed Celery
makes 4 servings
1 bunch celery hearts
1 slice day old bread, soaked in 1/4 cup milk and squeezed dry.
1 pound lean ground beef
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 3 TBS olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped ripe tomatoes
1. Separate the celery stalks and remove the stringy fibers with a peelr or paring knife. Cut into thirty-two 2 1/2 inch pieces.
2. Put the celery in a medium saucepan, add 1 teaspoon salt and water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and let cool.
3. Place the soaked bread in a medium bowl. Add the beef, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of the parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, amd 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and mix well to combine. Shape into 16 small balls.
4. Put 1/2 cup flour in a small bowl. Place 1 meatball between 2 pieces of celery and press so that they hold together. Roll in the flour and lay on a tray. Repeat with the remaining celery and meatballs.
5. In a small bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs with a pinch of salt. Put the remaining 1/2 cup flour in another small bowl. Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat until very hot. Dip each piece of celery in the beaten eggs, letting the excess drop off, then dredge in the flour and place in the hot oil. Fry, turning occassionally, until golden on all sides.
6. Transfer the celery to a large skillet that holds it in a single layer. Add the garlic, tomatoes, remaining 3 TBS olive oil, remaining TBS of parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Place over medium heat and cook, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.
I'm editing to add that I figured out how to fix the celery so that it would be great. I plan to make this again, only instead of making the meatball mixture for the center, I plan to use Italian sausage. I think it would be great then. So it's just a thought.


the rachel said...

that's too bad. of course, i don't like celery, so i would think it was a "poor start" anyways. =)

btw, cody told me i had to get your meatball recipe from the reception. he even created a computer cokbook for me so i can just import yours if you send them to me. so, start sending. =)

Erika said...

Lol! I'll see if I can find it. I just bought frozen meatballs from Sam's and made up the sauce.