Lovely ugly roots, part 1: Celeriac

November 13th, 2010 § 2 comments

These ugly underground veggies, these crooked roots, gnarled tubers and knotty bulbs…. celeriac, carrots, turnips, beets and other old fashioned parsnips, parsley roots, salsify and Jerusalem artichokes.

Don’t lie! I am pretty sure that at least once in your life you have looked at them with disdain at your local market or greengrocer, preferring them those shiny colorful imported zucchini and other asparagus…
Let’s face it, they look kind of drab, covered in clods of earth and mud, tainted with painful memories of hunger and poverty and war and ration cards.

Lovely Ugly Roots
This weekend’s market harvest… from top down: celeriac, white carrot, black carrot and parsnip.

Not surprisingly, they had become unfamous for a long while, some even disappearing from our market stalls (I can’t remember laying eyes or tasting jerusalem artichokes before my late teens and I’ve realised that most of my generation haven’t ever tasted one)….. But somehow, finally, the era of disgrace seems to have come to an end. Forgotten roots are all hip and trendy on the glossy covers of trendy food magazines, starring in michelin star signature dishes and on our market stalls.

And that’s great ’cause what’s not to love about them once you’ve taken the time to scrub those weirdly shaped and dirty looking monsters. It’s like the princess kissing a tod… scrub them and they will reveal the unexpected… like the delicate creamy color of a parsnip or the crazy deep yellow, pink and purple shades of old fashioned beets and carrots. Get passed the outer looks and you’ll discover surprisingly velvety or crunchy textures, heavenly sweet and soothing, slightly earthy tastes that will amaze your palate. What can I do, I’m a fairy tale lover, and I just love the old roots…

Today’s special is celeriac… Never completely forgotten since its aromatic attributes are at the base of many stocks, soups and stews in French and Italian traditional cooking.

Celeriac

I kind of like it’s funny disheveled looks and I praise its texture versatility and refreshing aromatic taste. Crunchy when raw (as in the french ‘celeri remoulade’ or american coleslaw), or tender and smooth when cooked.

I abuse of it as a mash with all kind of winter stews and other red meat and game dishes, but the recipe I’m most proud of is this simple melt-in-your-mouth potato/celeriac gratin I improvised for a Christmas dinner years ago and which saved me from an utterly distressful no-cheese-no-garlic dilemma (Can’t help it: my French roots are twisted with confusion when confronted to this double intolerance)…

Celery and potato gratin

Celeriac and potato gratin
Gratin de celeri et pommes de terres

serves 4 to 6 pers.
prep. 20 min; cooking: 1 h 20 min;
Oven temp: 180 deg C/350 deg F

Ingredients:
400 g celeriac, washed and peeled;
400g potatoes, washed and peeled;
juice of 1/2 lemon;
30 cl whipping cream;
1 knob butter;
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste;

Preheat the oven at 170 deg C. Butter a large glass or ceramic ovenproof baking dish.

Cut the celeriac in large chunks about the size of a potato. With a mandoline (goes faster! but you can also use a knife) slice the potatoes and celery in paper thin slices. Season the celeriac slices with lemon to avoid coloring

Lay a first layer of slightly overlaying celeriac slices in the oven dish. season with salt & pepper, spread a little cream over the celeriac. Repeat the operation with a layer of potato… celeriac, cream, potato, cream, etc. until you’ve used all the vegetables. Cover with the rest of the cream.

Bake in the oven for at least 1 h 20 min or until the tip of a knife slides smoothly through the layers.

Bon appétit!

More no-cheese-no-garlic sides? You might like these too…
Mashed celeriac‘Slow-cooked red cabbage and apple stewRed wine risotto

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