A good season for celery root
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.
It is the season for celery root, and the local harvest seems particularly delicious this year. There are several local sources, best found at a farmers market near you. I've been using the beautiful big bulbs grown by Ma and Pa's Garden and couldn't be happier. But by the end of the season, I will have tried celery root from every farmer who offers it.
When I first started writing about celery root in the mid 1990s, a lot of farmers told me they couldn't give it away. Some had even quit growing it. Now, many farmers can't grow enough of it to keep up with demand. Like arugula, quince, persimmons and fresh fava beans, celery root has been embraced by home cooks and restaurant chefs in the Bay Area and beyond. We've become celery-root literate and I rarely hear, “What's that weird looking thing?” any more.
Celery root is native to the Mediterranean and, like other root vegetables, is low in calories and full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Stored properly — unwashed and unpeeled, in a cool, dry, dark place — it keeps well for several weeks, as most root crops do.
Today's recipes are for dishes I've been enjoying this past week. For more celery root recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Some chefs and food writers compare skordalia to garlic mashed potatoes, but not only is this inaccurate, it is also misleading and can result in a dish that elicits a “what's the big deal?” response. A more apt comparison is to garlic mayonnaise, though it's a bit off target, too. I think the most important thing to understand is that skordalia is a condiment, not a side dish. It is delicious on hot hearth bread, on water crackers and as a dip with certain vegetables, including celery stalks and steamed artichokes. Because it is so rich, a little goes a long way. In this version, I add roasted celery root to the traditional potatoes and include both raw and roasted garlic. The roasted garlic, which has an earthy flavor, resonates with the sweet earthiness of the celery root. Do not reduce the amount of olive oil in the recipe or you will, indeed, end up with something closer to mashed root vegetables than the suave, voluptuous condiment you'll achieve with the full amount. It is important, as well, to realize that cooked celery root is fairly sweet; you need to adjust seasonings to balance this quality so that it doesn't overwhelm other dishes.
Celery Root and Roasted Garlic Skordalia
Makes 6 to 10 servings
8 ounces celery root, scrubbed
8 ounces potato, preferably dry-farmed, scrubbed
1¼ cup olive oil
1 small garlic bulb, roots trimmed
— Kosher salt
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 egg yolk
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
— Black pepper in a mill
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Set the celery root and potato in a heavy pan, rub with just a bit of the olive oil and set in the oven. Put the garlic bulb into a small ovenproof dish, add the olive oil, season with salt and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Set in the oven and bake with the potato and celery root for 35 minutes. Test for doneness and continue to cook as needed until all the vegetables are very tender. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes.
Pass both the celery root and the potato through a potato ricer or food mill fitted with the smallest blade. Set aside.
Set the roasted garlic bulb on a clean work surface and, with the bulb on its side, press out the garlic pulp. Use a fork to mash it into a smooth puree and then fold the puree into the celery root and potato mixture.
Strain the olive oil in which the roasted garlic was cooked into a pitcher or measuring cup and combine with the extra virgin olive oil and set aside.
Put the raw garlic cloves into a suribachi grinding bowl, season with a few pinches of salt and crush with a wooden mortar until reduced to a fine puree. Mix in the egg yolk.
Fold the garlic-egg yolk mixture into the celery root mixture and begin to add the olive oil, mixing well after each addition. When all of the olive oil has been incorporated, taste and, if the mixture is a bit flat, sprinkle several generous pinches of salt in one small area. Drizzle the lemon juice on top of the salt and then fold into the mixture. Season with several turns of black pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and as long as 2 hours.
Serve with hot bread, crackers or sliced fresh vegetables.
Celery Root Remoulade — or céleri rémoulade, as it is known in France — makes an excellent first course or side dish in the fall and winter, when celery root is at its peak.
Celery Root Remoulade
Makes 4 to 8 servings
2 pounds celery root
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup creme fraiche, homemade mayonnaise or Best Foods mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard, such as PIC, Fallot or Grey Poupon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley or 2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
Use a sharp knife to peel the celery root, cutting away the brown skin and any green patches. Cut into quarters and grate on the large grating blade of a food processor. Alternately, use a mandoline to cut the root into small julienne.
Put the celery root into a medium bowl, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, toss and set aside.
Put the creme fraiche or mayonnaise into a small mixing bowl, add the mustard and whisk until smooth. Taste and add the remaining lemon juice if you want a bit more acidity. Add the parsley or chives, season with salt and pepper and whisk again.
Pour the dressing over the celery root and toss until all of the celery root is evenly coated. Transfer to a serving bowl or individual plates and serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve the celery root as an elegant first course, divide it among small plates and top each portion with a slice or two of gravlax or lox or several pieces of smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked sturgeon or other smoked fish. Season well with black pepper, garnish with a lemon wedge and serve.
If you enjoy the flavor of green peppercorns, use a green peppercorn Dijon instead of a classic Dijon. Toss about a tablespoon of brined green peppercorns with the celery root. Serve with a slice of country-style paté, topped with a bit of the mustard.
To include other vegetables, use just 1 pound of celery root. Grate or julienne 1 peeled carrot, 8 to 10 (small) radishes and one medium roasted and peeled beet as you grate the celery root. Season generously with black pepper.
For an apple-celery-root remoulade, use 1½ pounds celery root and one large firm apple, peeled and grated or julienned. Instead of lemon juice, use apple cider vinegar and plenty of freshly black ground black pepper.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at email@example.com. You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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