Yield: Serves 4
Quartered celery bunches are braised on a bed of aromatic vegetables, then sauced and topped with buttered crumbs.
1. Trim the bottoms of the celery and remove any coarse outer ribs, but leave the bunches intact. Cut off the leafy ends so that each bunch measures 6 inches long. Cut each bunch lengthwise into quarters. Coarsely chop the celery trimmings and set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on absorbent paper and reserve for another use. Add the onion, carrots, and celery trimmings to the bacon fat and cook, stirring, until the onion is limp. Remove from the heat and arrange the celery quarters over the vegetables. Pour on the chicken broth and cover the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the celery is tender and the aromatic vegetables are soft.
3. Using a perforated spatula, transfer the celery to a shallow baking dish. Pour the cooking liquid and vegetables into the container of a blender or processor and whirl until smooth. Return it to the pan and place over high heat. Make a paste of the flour and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Bring the liquid to a boil and whisk in the flour mixture a little at a time. Season with salt and cook until slightly thickened. Pour over the celery.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet and add the bread crumbs, tossing to coat evenly. Scatter the buttered crumbs over the celery. Slide the baking dish under the broiler and cook until the crumbs are nicely browned. Serve while bubbling hot.
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