Celery Root – Celeriac - Apium graveolens var. rapaceum
Sometimes, a vegetable is so weird and unattractive it’s adorable. This is absolutely the case with celery root, though adorable might be going too far.
Because a celery root right from the farm that hasn’t been shaved of its roots or its facial hair is simply weird, and kind of ugly, and intimidating. But maybe the adorable part comes in because we’re so surprised that something so brown and hairy, with its multitude of grabbingly thick, almost threatening roots can offer such near-celestial flavor.
From a Good Family
Celeriac or celery root is part of the parsnip, parsley, and carrot family. It isn’t celery, but rather a cousin raised just for its bulbous root, not its stalks which are too bitter to fill with peanut butter and eat. It is high in vitamin C, contains protein and carbohydrates but no fat and can be eaten raw or cooked and, most importantly, is heaven on the plate.
Puree Isn’t Always Potatoes
I come from a family where a thick, white puree on my plate was always made of potatoes. So on arriving in France as an apprentice at a cooking school, where gustatory wonders never ceased, I remember my first celery root puree. Pure white, smooth as silk, I thought it was made of potato, and why wouldn’t I? When it hit my tongue, though, I knew I was in unknown, blissful territory. What, I wondered, was this heavenly cloud I was eating?
Michelin Starred Celery Root
The scene was not at school; it was soon after my arrival in France when I was very green around the ears – culinarily speaking –and I found myself at my first Michelin starred restaurant. I hadn’t yet had the good fortune to cook a celery root, let alone eat one.
My ignorance didn’t last long, for it turns out celery root is to French cuisine what the potato is to others, absolutely common. It’s not a starch, though, it’s an amazingly flavorful, sweet tuber that takes well to butter and cream, that elevates every dish it touches, that offers that wonderful moment of “Aha” when you eat it because it offers that element of surprise.
Autumn Through Mid-Spring
Celery root remains a vital part of French gastronomy in the winter, when it is turned into everything from salad, after being cut in sticks and tossed with a mustardy mayonnaise, to puree. It is wonderful crushed with just a pat of butter, as a basis for a soup, or as a neighbor to other root vegetables in a stew.
To Overlook is Divine
One must overlook its physical form, but if unattractiveness were to stop the cook and chef, where would we be? In a sad world, you will agree, without many of our favorite ingredients, including the celery root.