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Celeriac (Celery Root)

November 10, 2008

100_1569

(Note: This post appears courtesy of Food Junta, and also appears on their blog.)

Celeriac is another of those foods, like artichokes and oysters, that prompts you to ask. “Who was the first person who saw this and tried to eat it?” I mean, look at it! Its peel is like armor and it’s halfway to growing tentacles. What kind of maniac would look at this and see food?

In fact, not that many people try to eat celeriac these days. It probably ranks somewhere slightly behind rutabaga on the list of most popular root vegetables, and when was the last time you ate a rutabaga? But there’s no good reason for that, and if you find celeriac at your market in the coming weeks (It’s in season, kids!) pick some up and give it a try.

Celeriac, or celery root, is the same vegetable as celery, but cultivated for its roots rather that its stalks (beets and chard have the same relationship). It tastes like a potato with a strong celery flavor and is higher in fiber and lower in calories than the old Irish culinary workhorse.

Perhaps due to its relative unpopularity, I had a lot of trouble finding many interesting ways to cook celeriac. It can be served raw, as a slaw or mixed into salads, but beyond that, it’s pretty much cooked like a potato: boiled, roasted, gratinéed, souped (is there a verb for turning something into soup?), etc.

In fact, many celeriac recipes calls for it to be mixed with potatoes, probably because it’s a pretty strongly flavored vegetable. So I decided to cook by consensus and make a simple potato and celeriac mash. I’ll give you the details, and a bonus tip for the leftovers, after the jump.

Potato and Celeriac Mash

This is going to be a little redundant with Liz’s colcannon, but whole books could be – oops, have been – written about mashed potatoes. So there.

**Caveat cutter: Removing the tough outer peel of celeriac is a really great way to slice off a fingertip, so be careful and use a sharp knife. Contrary to what you might think, dull knives are much more dangerous than sharp ones. Dull knives stick and slide and have a tendency to pop out of the food you’re cutting and into the hand you’re cutting with. So be careful. Here endeth the lesson.

Roughly equal amounts of potatoes and celeriac
Butter (to taste, but I’d advise about 2 tbs. per pound of root vegetable)
Milk or cream
Salt and pepper

100_15781. Peel potatoes and celeriac and cut into roughly equal-sized chunks.
2. Toss the cut veggies in a pot, add water to cover, and salt aggressively.
3. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15-25 minutes, maybe longer, until everything is extremely tender. Both vegetable are very forgiving when boiling, just don’t turn them into soup. Unless, of course, you want soup.
4. Drain the vegetables and put them into a large bowl or pot with plenty of room for mashing. Add butter and a small amount of milk/cream. (If you’re counting calories, you can skip the butter and use the cooking liquid instead of the milk/cream.)
5. Mash! Mash like you’ve never mashed before! If you, like Liz’s father, have a potato ricer or masher and have been desperate to take it for a spin, now’s your chance. Electric mixers also work well. Otherwise, a fork or slotted spoon will do just fine. Add milk/cream/cooking liquid slowly as you go, until you get a consistency you like.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This mash goes really well with all kinds of meat, but if you’re keeping it veggie, it would be a nice starchy mate for a green vegetable.

And with the leftovers…

This is another of my father’s tricks, and it’s great for any mashed vegetable you’re got kicking around: It’s pretty much a mashed potato pancake.

1. Heat olive oil or butter in  small skillet.
2. Fry onions and/or garlic in the fat, if desired.
3. Add mash, and pat flat into a pancake-like shape, incorporating any onions or garlic into the pancake.
4. Leave alone, and let fry for a few minutes. Ideally, you should be able to shake the pan and have your pancake slide around. You can then flip it and fry the other side. This does not always work, as the mash doesn’t always form a good crust on the bottom. If you end up with a somewhat chunky mess, do not worry: It will still taste good.

I like this with a fried egg or two, sort of like hash browns. It’s not culinary genius, but it sure beats microwaved mush.

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