1 tablespoon stock (chicken, vegetable, whatever floats your boat) or water
2 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces, chilled
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Set a big pot of water to boil over high heat, and salt it. How much salt? Too little and the water will taste flat and metallic, and too much will make it taste painful. So somewhere in between.
Cut off the bottom from the bunch of celery, right about where the stalks start to narrow, and then strip the leaves. If you want the final dish to look uniform and pretty, go ahead and take those spindly stalks off the top, too.
Using your peeler, strip the stalks from top to bottom. Take a look at those long, stringy fibers. They're kind of beautiful, aren't they? Coils of green curls. But they're also 75 percent of why people don't take celery seriously. I mean, who wants to eat a mouthful of dental floss? So be ruthless; if you have to, go over it twice with the peeler to get all the fibers, and don't forget to turn it over and go down the edge, too. (But you don't have to waste the trim. Save it to add to stock or soup for flavor.) You could do it like this dude. Check out the tunes!
Now cut the celery stalks into ¼-inch thick slices. If you're fancy, do it diagonally on the bias, making elongated U-shapes.
Is your water at full boil? OK, drop your celery in. After 2 or 3 minutes, taste a piece. When it's tender and slippery but with just a touch of snap left in its heart, drain it thoroughly, shaking the colander to get the excess water off.
In a separate pan, or back in the empty blanching pot, heat the stock or water over medium-low heat until some steam comes off. Now here's a funny little technique: Tilt the pan so that all the liquid creates a puddle where the side and bottom of the pan meet. With a small whisk or a fork, quickly whisk in the butter, one chunk at a time. The butter will melt but emulsify, giving you a thick, creamy-looking sauce. When all the butter is incorporated, add the celery and, off heat, stir to coat it thoroughly. How does it taste? Season with salt and pepper until it tastes good. Shave cheese on top and serve immediately.
Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.