Celery leaves — known primarily as a throwaway top to an already underappreciated vegetable — are so often discarded. It’s a real shame. Celery leaves are actually a bonus to their stalks and completely virtuous on their own. Here's everything you need to know about prepping them and turning them into a vibrant pesto.
Celery leaves are delicious, nutritious, and packed with intense celery flavor. Prep them like you would any herb: minced, coarsely chopped, or left in their true, whole-leaf form. Toss the tender leaves with salad greens and vinaigrette. Throw them into stir-fries, stocks, soups, and sauces.
Today I’m sharing my recipe for a versatile and delicious pesto, and giving you six additional ways to use celery leaves. Next time you find yourself about to discard those leaves, I hope you’ll stop and bring one of these ideas to mind.
How to Use Celery Leaves
My favorite way to prepare celery leaves is to puree them into a flavorful and bright pesto with toasted nuts and Parmesan cheese.
At my restaurant, Little Eater, we serve the spread on toasted Italian bread with thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, a drizzle of good olive oil, and flaked sea salt. We layer it into a hearty sandwich with avocado, thinly sliced cucumber, goat cheese, and arugula. (You have to try it!) You can also fold the pesto (or leaves) into a risotto, potato frittata, or a Tuscan-style white bean stew.
How to Pick Out the Best Celery Leaves
You will score the most leaves by looking for full bunches with dark green outer stalks (not just a trimmed bunch of light green hearts). Pick the leaves off the thin stems at the top of the stalk. To store the leaves, wrap them in a slightly damp kitchen towel and place the bundle in an open plastic bag in your vegetable drawer. (Alternatively, line a zip-top bag with a paper towel and fill the bag with leaves.) While leaves are tender and useful, those outer, dark green stalks can sometimes be a little tough for raw preparations — reserve them for stock, soups, and soffritto.
How to Make Celery Leaf Pesto
In a food processor, fitted with a standard blade, chop 2 small garlic cloves until they won’t break down any further. Add 1/2 cup walnuts or almonds, and 2 to 3 cups celery leaves; blend until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend again, streaming in 3/4 cup to 1 cup olive oil through the top feed tube until smooth. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6 Smart Ways to Redeem Celery Leaves
- Use celery leaves as a fresh herb. Mince them finely or coarsely chop them to garnish any dish with bright, celery flavor.
- Make celery leaf pesto. Spread the bright pesto over toast or into a sandwich.
- Make a celery leaf and chickpea salad. Combine celery leaves, chopped celery, and chickpeas with shaved red onion and sherry vinaigrette.
- Add celery leaves to vegetable stocks, soups, stews, and pasta sauce.
- Add celery leaves to a stir-fry at the very end of cooking. Reserve a pinch of leaves to garnish the top.
- Swap parsley for celery leaves in a classic tabbouleh with bulgur, tomato, and cucumber.