After a Zumba class I was absolutely ravenous. Thankfully my husband had been slaving away over a hot stove, so a mere hour after I arrived home (during which I whinged almost constantly), a warming, nourishing and comfortingly bland (in a good way) dish of Nigel Slater origin appeared. The trick with this is to make sure you get the salt and pepper just right, and don't eat or drink anything with strong flavours at the same time, as all the flavours are milky and gentle. It's like a healthy version of macaroni & cheese. As usual, quantities are for two people.
- half a head of celery
- half a small onion
- a bay leaf
- 100 ml milk
- 25g butter
- 1 heaped tbsp flour
- a handful of Parmesan or other cheese (experiment!)
- a small bunch of parsley
- a handful of rough breadcrumbs
Snap the celery into ribs and wash the root ends thoroughly. Put them in a wide saucepan (cut in half if yours is not wide enough to take them horizontally) and pour over just enough water to barely cover them. Peel and thinly slice the onion and add, along with the bay leaf. Poach over a low heat, until the celery is tender.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. With a draining spoon, remove the celery, onion and bay leaf to a large, shallow baking dish. Use 100ml of the cooking water from the celery along with the butter, flour and milk to make a white sauce, then add half of the Parmesan, and all of the parsley and stir. (Nigel talks about cooking this for a long time before adding the parsley, but I NEVER have time for that sort of faffing. It's a white sauce! Get over it!)
Pour the sauce over the celery and top with breadcrumbs and the rest of the cheese. Bake for forty minutes or so, until the topping is crisp. Rest for a few minutes before serving. You'd have time at this stage to quickly sear a couple of salmon steaks on each side - yum.