Happy New Year. Last year went too quickly and I was so preoccupied with puppy training. I felt like I was reading more about dogs than I was about food and didn’t feel motivated to cook let alone eat. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details because I feel so happy now with Scout but trust me…that puppy brought out some ugly moments in this house.
Speaking of ugly (yep…my awkward segues are back), have you ever used a celery root? Despite the name, it technically isn’t the root of our favorite peanut butter delivery vessel. Celery root (or celeriac) is an uuugggggly knob that grows in the ground….like a turnip or potato….but it isn’t a turnip or potato….but it can be used in a lot of recipes like a turnip or potato.
Confused? Wait there is more. The green stems that are sprouting from the root are deceiving because they look like your everyday celery but they are not. They are super tender and don’t provide that crisp, crunchy bite that you may expect from that familiar vegetable.. (Don’t toss them…use them as a garnish or in soups or stews.)
When shopping for a celery root, you want a baseball size brownish lump that is deceptively heavy for its size. You don’t want soft spots or slimy areas. The nooks and crannies are normal BUT remember you will have peel it and those spots will be harder to peel AND cause your actual yield to go down. The ones WITH the green healthy stalks popping out of them are probably the freshest. (But you will want to remove them immediately when you get it home because they will cause the root to rot from the center faster if left intact.)
Like I said previously, Celery root grows in the dirt….so to state the obvious…they will be dirty. If you plan on storing it in your fridge resist the urge to wash it first. The dirt will actually help it stay fresher longer. You will only wash it before you are ready to use it. (You can brush off the loose dirt and store it in the produce plastic so you don’t make your produce drawer dirty.)
When it is go time, slice off the super hard knobby parts with a sharp knife and then break out your peeler and rid it off all the rough, “furry” skin. (I loved watching Chef Shelley at The Chopping Block do this on WGN last monthbecause I used to use a knife all over the whole thing.)
The versatility of a celery root is the number one reason you want to work this vegetable into your menu planning. It can be eaten raw think a celery root and apple slaw or this celery salad with celery root and horseradish. I think the key is to shred it or cut into matchsticks for the most pleasing uncooked flavor.
I think my fall in love moment was when I made the potato and celery root gratin that I learned from the WGN/Chopping Block episode over the holidays. I have a firm rule that if I take a class, even if it is a demonstration, I must try to recreate the recipe at home. It is great way to remember hints. (Kind of like writing a blog about cooking topics.)
I’m a huge fan of a good potato gratin but I will admit that sometimes the potatoes make me feel a bit “thick.” Celery root adds a great new depth to the flavor of a potato gratin without all the starchiness. (Okay, it still is a bit heavy because it is made with cream and cheese.)
So let’s review….you are going to buy an ugly vegetable, wash it, peel it and make it beautiful. Tadah….there is no better way to start the new year.
Here is the recipe from the WGN spot on The Chopping Block. It is posted online but just to make sure it is never lost on the web, I made the choice to copy and paste it here too. (The picture for this post is the one I made at home.) I didn’t make any adjustments except adding more garlic…because I love a ton of garlic.
Potato & Celery Root Gratin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 roasted garlic cloves, minced (see note, below)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, rough chopped
2 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices
1 large or 2 small celery root, peeled and cut into thin slices
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
Yield: 6-8 servings
Active time: 35 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a sheet tray with parchment paper.
- Heat together the cream, roasted garlic and thyme in a saucepan until steaming. Set aside while preparing the vegetables.
- Lightly butter a baking or pie dish. Place a layer of sliced potatoes on the bottom of the dish in a concentric circle. Season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle about 1/4 cup of the infused garlic cream on top, and top with a sprinkling of Gruyere cheese.
- Arrange the next layer using celery root, and continue in this fashion, alternating potatoes and celery root, until the baking dish is full.
- Top the gratin with Gruyere cheese and cover with foil. Bake on the prepared sheet tray for 40 minutes.
- Uncover the baking dish, and continue to cook until the potatoes and celery root are knife- tender and the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes, cut into slices and serve.
- These can be made individually in ramekins, which will take half the time to bake.
- To roast garlic, slice the top off a whole head of garlic to expose the cloves. Place it in a small oven-proof dish, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, until the cloves are soft and a light golden color.