Oft unknown and underutilized, celeriac or celery root is a vegetable with white flesh and knobby light-brown skin. Its texture is not far from parsnips. Its flavor is like celery: fresh, bright, and almost citrusy. In fact they are related. The celery root grows green stems and leaves above the soil surface that look much like celery and can be used just like celery. The greens have a more pronounced celery flavor but the stems are woody and hollow like bamboo. The herb lovage, another celery cousin, is like this too. The stems can be used as straws in mixed drinks like the Bloody Mary or my take on the Tom Collins.
One of the most common recipes for celeriac, especially in French cuisine is céleri rémoulade, which is a slaw of mandolined or julienned celeriac dressed in rémoulade, a mayonnaise-type sauce. You will also find celeriac prepared as creamy soups or puréed side dishes that resemble mashed potatoes. Though I love céleri rémoulade, since it is now fall, I chose to prepare a classic rendition of cream of celeriac soup. The accompanying recipe for herbed crostini makes a nice complement. Serve the soup as a start to an elegant holiday dinner. The celery flavor awakens the palate in preparation for more food to come.
The thing that turns most people off from cooking with celeriac is the seemingly daunting task of peeling. It's not hard at all when dealt with in small chunks. Cut the celeriac into quarters and then peel it. Use a pairing knife to remove stubborn knotty spots. While working on the root, it's a good idea to add it to acidulated water to keep the lovely white from oxidizing. Do the same with the potato. I also do a few tricks to keep the soup white. I use a bouquet garni for the whole peppercorns, herbs, and bay leaf. This way you won't find any specks in the soup. A touch of lemon juice and a small amount of cream added during cooking also helps the vegetable from discoloring.
Cream of Celeriac Soup
Note: When the lemon juice and cream are added to the soup, it will look curdled, but don't worry, once the soup is puréed and the remaining cream is added, it will all look well.
4 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 leek, white and light-green parts only, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large celereric (celery root), peeled and cubed
1 medium russet potato, cubed
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
herbed crostini, recipe follows
Place parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a piece of cheesecloth and tie into a bundle.
Warm oil and butter in a large pot set over medium heat. Add garlic, leek, and onion; sauté until soft and translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add celeriac and potato. Pour in chicken stock, lemon juice, and half the cream. Add bouquet garni. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until celeriac is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove bouquet garni and discard.
Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until silky smooth. Return the soup to the pot and warm. Stir in remaining cream. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve. Serve with herbed crostini. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Note: This recipe uses a combination of chopped parsley and lovage for the herb topping. Celery leaves from celery stalks or celeriac greens, if you can find it, also work well.
6 tablespoons softened butter
fine sea salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped lovage
1/2 baguette, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, combine butter with parsley and lovage.
Place bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until light golden, about 5 minutes. Spread crostini with herbed butter.
Joseph Erdos is a New York–based writer and editor, butabove all a gastronomer and oenophile. He shares his passion for foodon his blog, Gastronomer's Guide , which features unique recipes and restaurant reviews among many other musings on the all-encompassing topic of food.