A good season for celery root

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

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