Celery Root —Pretty Ugly!
The have French have a term, “jolie-laide.” Translated directly, it means “pretty-ugly,” but it refers to a woman whose beauty is unconventional, not obviously pretty, but who nonetheless possesses an indefinable allure. One might argue the same for the humble celery root, or celeriac. (Some might counter that celery root is merely ugly, not pretty-ugly. Feel free to ignore them.) Celery root’s beauty does take some work to reveal. Lying in the grocery bin, it’s all brown skinned, misshapen orb, with stubby green stems sticking out in all directions like some asymmetrical octopus. While peeling off the knobby skin reveals smooth ivory flesh, most of the celery root’s beauty is in its subtle, unique flavor. Raw or cooked, its taste is an earthy combination of celery and parsley. The flesh, when cooked, has the texture and substance of a potato. It’s also a nutritional goldmine: high in vitamin C and B6, lots of fiber, and very little starch.
True to form, the French are great appreciators of celery root. Shredded on a mandolin, it is the basis for the bistro classic céleri rémoulade, a simple salad with a mustard-y dressing. The traditional version has a mayonnaise base, but I like the simpler (and lighter) translation outlined below. If you are looking for a hot side dish, try boiling peeled celery root along with potatoes and puree for a more sophisticated take on mashed potatoes. Either of these dishes is delicious alongside roast chicken or salmon. For a fancier meal, I love to serve a pureed soup made of celery root, chestnuts and cream, with a surprising hit of maple syrup and vinegar. This latter recipe is something I serve at Thanksgiving every year—consider adding it to your menu. (And if you haven’t already, you may want to pre-order a heritage turkey—or two—from local Turkana Farms. Their flavorful birds are not to be missed.)
Chilled Celery Root in Mustard Sauce (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Houghton Mifflin 2004)
1 large celery root, peeled with a paring knife, not a peeler, and cut into matchsticks (easiest on a mandolin)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
Toss the celery root, salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a bowl. Marinate, covered, for 30 minutes to one hour (either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.)
Make the dressing by whisking together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Add the the oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified.
Drain the celery root and return it to the bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss to combine. Refrigerate, covered, for at least an hour. Sprinke with the parsley before serving.
Celery Root and Chestnut Puree (adapted from Florence Fabricant’s adaptation of a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe, originally published in the New York Times )
8 small servings
2 celery roots, about 2 pounds total, peeled and cut in chunks
1 can chestnut puree (unsweetened—the cans contain 15.5 oz—I use the Clement Faugier brand)
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Freshly ground white pepper
Place celery root in a saucepan with 3 2/3 cups water and the heavy cream. Add 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste, bring to a simmer and cook until celery root is very tender, about 35 minutes.
While celery root cooks, combine maple syrup, vinegar, allspice and cloves in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, and remove from heat.
When celery root is tender, purée contents of saucepan. Stir in the chestnut puree, reheat and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Remove from heat and cover until ready to serve. If the soup is too thick, you can thin it with more cream, milk or water to taste.
To serve, pour 1½ tablespoons of warm maple syrup mixture in each of 8 teacups. Reheat soup and ladle over syrup. Serve at once. —Paige Orloff