Thursday, November 12, 2020

One Ugly Vegetable

In the commotions of a virulent virus and a nerve racking election,I’ve had a hard time getting my brain to focus on what to write about. I’ve been searching for something not too serious, or opinionated, fluffy, but real. In searching for a topic I find that I have to stay tuned to that hidden muse that keeps her eyes open for me. I’ll suddenly start noticing the same thing popping up again and again. Sometimes the muse has to beat me over the head. This thing showed up among the winter root vegetables at the farmer’s market, was served at a dinner party, kept popping up in the titles of recipes, and was mentioned four times in the fluffy book I am reading. Weird coincidences for such an ugly thing that I had never seen or heard of before moving to France.The muse was shouting, “Pay attention - it’s céleri-rave “, aka celeriac.

No I am not misspelling celery. The two vegetables are related, but you cannot swap one for the other in recipes. Celeriac is probably the ugliest thing you will ever bring into your kitchen. It’s a white, scabby ball with stringy roots popping out all over. I say it’s a ball, but it can be distorted in all sorts of ways. Appearances won’t matter once you cut into it.

Along with the potato, celeriac is the most versatile vegetable cultivated in the West. You can boil it, steam it, roast it, mash it, grate it, fry it, and cream it (for a soothing winter soup).

I encountered this vegetable for the first time in a slaw-like dish called, celeri remoulade. I’ve watched Americans as they tuck into this crunchy slaw for the first time. Without fail, folks love it. The question is always, “what’s the secret ingredient?”

At some point I noticed that every time I asked a friend what was the secret ingredient in her delicious side dishes the answer was always céleri-rave. Celeriac in mashed potatoes, roasted celeriac, celeriac gratin. Every bite extra rich and tasty and it’s not just the butter…

Heated, the root’s flavor is sweetened and mellowed.

Here are some ways to savor this deliciously ugly vegetable:

To roast the celeriac bulb whole, rub it with olive oil and the leaves from 6 sprigs of thyme or a spice like cumin or coriander. Wrap it tightly in foil, set in a pan and roast for 2 hours until soft. Spread the foil open and roast 30 minutes more to crisp up the skin. Cut into wedges, drizzle with hazelnut oil and lemon, sprinkle with sea salt.

The most classic of comfort food, a steaming, creamy gratin. Slice equal quantities of peeled potatoes and celeriac and layer them with thin slices of one onion in a gratin dish. Season, cover with cream and dot with butter - did I say cream and butter again?  Bake at 180C/350F for about an hour or until bubbling and golden.

Celeri Remoulade

1 tblsp sherry vinegar

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tblsp mayonnaise

6 tblsp plain yogurt

2 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

—puree the above ingredients

—pour over

1 1/2 pounds celeriac peeled and grated, about 4 cups

sprinkle with capers if you like

Simplest Soup:

Place finely chopped leeks and onion in heavy casserole and brown in butter till soft, throw in chunks of peeled celeriac and let everything soften in milk or stock. Blend and finish with a generous pour of cream. A sprinkle of crisp bacon will top it off nicely.

Roasted celeriac wedges with sage and walnuts  - mixing Vermont and our region, the Perigord Vert. Get out your metric measures!

1 tablespoon olive oil

135 ml maple syrup or honey

1 kg celeriac, scrubbed clean and peeled

15g fresh sage leaves, shredded

1 teaspoon sea salt

175g walnuts

preheat oven 400F/200C

Beat the oil and syrup together in a jug. Cut the celeriac into 2.5cm wide wedges, and spread over a roasting pan. Drizzle half the liquid over the wedges and toss them to coat thoroughly. Roast for 20-25 minutes till the wedges begin to soften, turning them halfway through.

Add the sage, salt and walnuts to the remaining maple syrup and oil, which then spoon over the cleric. Continue to roast for 10 - 12 minutes more, or until the celeriac just begins to caramelize.

And one more soup - I told you celeriac kept appearing on my radar….

1 big bulb of celeriac

1 pear

3 potatoes

1 onion

1 garlic clove


crème fraîche

salt and pepper

Peel and cut the potatoes and cleric into little morsels. In a heavy weight casserole sauté diced onions and garlic in butter for 3 minutes. 

Add potatoes and celeriac. Just cover with water. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Peel and deseed the pear. Cut into cubes and add to the soup 10 minutes before the end of its cooking time.

Blend with a mixer.

At the moment of serving add a big spoonful of crème fraîche. Serve hot.

—decorations: sprinkle with diced black olives or chopped hazelnuts


Kathie K said...

I am one of those Americans who upon the first time visiting France discovered Celeri Remoulade and loved it. Now I'm craving it here in Oregon.

Lynn McBride said...

This is a fun post, b/c I too was surprised to see this vegetable everywhere when we moved to France, and I had never encountered it before. Since then we've been served it many times. Though I love almost every vegetable, I confess this one has not grown on me, despite it's mild flavor. But I'm tempted now to give it another try, with one of your recipes. In particular I've never roasted it, so I'll give that a shot. So many veggies are transformed by roasting--turnips being the best example. La confinement is the perfect time to try something new!

Jeanie said...

It looks a bit like how I imagine a brain to look like. That would be fun to include in a Halloween haunted house! I confess, I've never had it and never really see it around here. But now I know what to do with it if and when I find it!

Lynne said...

Learning something new!
Thank you for the recipes!