From Too Many Chefs -

May 19, 2005
Something New

CELERY1.JPGIn January, I made a resolution to try something new every week, theoretically providing 52 great exploratory posts and a world of new sensations for myself. And here we are, a mere 20 or so weeks later and I have achieved the following:

1) the inital post
2) bought (but have yet to open) a jar of pickled lemons
3) last night I tried cooking celeriac, also known as celery root

So we are being quite traditional with the old new year's resolutions here, managing to keep them for a week or so and then giving a token nod in their direction from time to time. Still. I'm rather proud of venturing into the world of celeriac as it's a big ugly root and on the surface it doesn't exactly look beguiling. I forgot to take a photo before I started, but trust me: it looks like a tough inedible turnip the size of your head. The recipes I read advised taking a good thick layer off when peeling..mmmmm.

I browsed the web for a while looking for interesting things to do with my big vegetable. In the end, though, I decided to start out with something simple. When using a new ingredient it's always best to be a little conservative until you know what you are doing, right? Mashed celeriac. With cream, because it just sounded like a great idea and how can you go wrong adding more richness to a boring vegetable?

So I put a pork roast in the oven and peeled my celeriac (thickly) and cut it in large chunks. I boiled it for about 35 minutes, until it was tender and I have to say it smelled delicicous. There was a faint celery smell with an underlying meaty potato scent, very tantalizing. I started to get excited about my food experiment.

I drained the celeriac (or so I thought), popped some butter in the pan and a little cream and started mashing with the potato masher. And I very quickly realized that celeriac has an amazing ability to retain water. As soon as I started mashing, water oozed from the chunks of vegetable. Note to self: next time be more assiduous in the draining of celeriac!

Although the celeriac was tender to the knife point, it has a somewhat woody texture and didn't mash to a creamy consistency like well-cooked potatoes. Actually, I thought the texture was satisfyingly toothy. I tasted a little bit of my developping mash: bland. Bland, bland, bland as a diplomat in a tight spot. I added salt, loads of freshly ground pepper and a generous grating of nutmeg. It was nice. But bland. It looked pretty in its little pot and I could see how it would be a nice compliment to roast game or even my roast pork. But I felt I hadn't plummed the depths of its potential.

As the roast still needed another half hour in the oven at this point, I decided to experiement. I squished the mashed celeriac into a glass baking dish and covered it with grated comté cheese, a little more salt and a little more nutmeg and baked it with the roast. As you can see here, it was very pretty. Again, it smelled very tasty. And it was more flavorful than plain old mashed celeriac but it was still pretty bland. Or delicate, if you like: one cook's bland is another cook's delicate you know.

As I expected, it went very well with the roast. But I don't think I'll be making it again soon. I'm happy I tried it and glad to know what it tastes like. But it's not coming back to my table again. Life is too short for boring vegetables!

Now...does anyone have any suggestions on what to do with a jar of pickled lemons??

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 19, 2005 2:59 PM | TrackBack

I haven't used preserved lemons in years; although I went through a spate of Moroccan cooking,it somehow fell out of my repetoire. But redfox at The hungry Tiger has some lovely ideas.

You have me thinking I might make a batch of preserved lemons, as an homage to spring.

Posted by Elsa on May 19, 2005 at 6:17 PM

Wow! Elsa, thanks for the link!! You are right: there are loads of good ideas there. I'm going to have to start playing with them; there is no excuse for being afraid of your food!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 20, 2005 at 2:51 AM

HI! I just couldn't resist commenting about this celeriac post, because a few months ago I had the same experience cooking with it for the first time (my knife got stuck in it for a long time and couldn't get it out) It is definetly not something you'd use for a quick meal! But here is one preparation that celeriac really is delicious in: In Germany, I've had chicken soup with pieces of celeriac. It is delicious...almost like vanilla essence, very fragrant. It's much better than plain old celery, really amazing flavor. It adds great flavor to soups, that I know. It is very stringy and I can't imagine wanting to eat it mashed!

Posted by Amy on May 20, 2005 at 2:15 PM

Amy, that's a good point. I don't usually like proper celery in soup because it's even stringier than the root and has a very strong flavour. This would be great slivered in a vegetable soup. The only problem is that a whole head would overwhelm soup in the quantity I make it. I'll have to do some research on freezing it!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 21, 2005 at 7:50 AM

If I recall, Jamie Oliver made a celeriac gratin where he cut it into chunks then put it in the oven mixed with cream, cheese, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper. It sounded wonderful and you don't have the worry of boiling and draining the little sponges :)

Posted by Meg on May 21, 2005 at 10:26 AM

The gratin sounds great - same flavor as my final dish with less hassle and less water! Maybe if I buy a head to put in my soup, I'll use the remainder for a non-watery gratin. Thanks!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 21, 2005 at 4:54 PM

I've used celeriac in my "Weight Watchers" style soup. Good thing I also used ginger root, red peppers, and a whole bunch of cilantro. It didn't have a chance to be bland.

Posted by Meg's MOM on May 27, 2005 at 2:06 PM

There's a great recipe for Celery Root Slaw in the most recent (February) Bon Appetit. Coarsely grate a celeriac, and coarsely grate part of a seedless cucumber. Squeeze water out of cuke shreds, then mix with celeriac. Add some mayo, lemon juice, capers, chopped basil, salt and pepper, then chill.... Celeriac Slaw! Perhaps you could dice up some preserved lemons into it.

Posted by RJ on January 14, 2007 at 9:13 PM

RJ - that sounds very tasty! Coincidentally, I bought another head of celeriac at the market this weekend and was intending to do some research to find a more interesting recipe. Thanks!

Posted by Meg in Paris on January 15, 2007 at 4:29 AM