What the Heck is Celeriac?
Have you ever pondered over some of the more exotic selections in the produce section of the grocery store? Ever wondered about some of the more unfamiliar vegetables on offer? If so, chances are you've been stumped by celeriac.
Celeriac is celery root. Of course, you're familiar with celery stalks. They're kitchen staples, figuring in hundreds of dishes, usually along with carrots and onions. Celery, carrots and onions are the triple threat of cooking; crucial for adding depth of flavor to many a good soup, stock, roast, or what have you. But what's celeriac good for?
Well, like other root vegetables, celeriac is good for you. It's rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamin K (important for healthy bones and blood clotting), and it's infused with subtle, almost nutty celery-like flavor. Granted, it will never win any beauty contests. Root vegetables tend to be homely at best. Celeriac is downright ugly. It's usually gnarled, knobby, and bulbous, with a few hairy roots peeking out, and dirt tends to cling tenaciously to it's twisted nooks and crannies. No wonder most Americans have never even seen this vegetable, let alone sought it out, cooked it, or eaten it.
But I'm here to tell you that it's time to broaden your horizons. Celeriac, which is grown specifically for its root (not its stalks) is a highly prized vegetable in Europe. It's used freshly julienned and blanched, then tossed with dressing for a crunchy salad, or boiled like a potato, or braised like leeks. It can be roasted or stewed. Try adding thin slices to other ingredients when making homemade potato soup for a subtle depth of flavor that whispers of celery. Or boil and mash for a sophisticated alternative to mashed spuds.
Choose firm, heavy roots with no soft spots. Never mind the dirt, but keep in mind that smaller specimens may be more tender than larger, woodier ones. To eat, you must remove the outer skin. Don't bother with a vegetable peeler; it won't be up to this particular task. Instead, use a chef's knife or a paring knife, and prepare to be ruthless; you'll need to cut away enough of the skin to get down to the unblemished creamy white flesh, and you'll have to sacrifice some of the flesh to accomplish this. That's okay. Cut and trim until you have a more or less uniformly creamy white root, rinse, and prepare to eat raw, or cook. If there will be any delay, place peeled root in water, with a splash of lemon juice, to prevent browning upon exposure to the air.
Basic Celeriac Mash
Trim one or two celeriac roots; slice flesh into uniform slices, then into chunks of roughly equal size.
Place pieces in a large pot; cover with water and bring to a boil
Boil on medium heat for about 20 minutes.
Drain, then return cooked celeriac to pan.
Mash with a hand masher, then add salt and pepper.
Add 1/4 cup heavy cream (or extra virgin olive oil, or organic butter) and stir.
(optional: add a pinch of celery seed)