Season’s eatings: celeriac

By Sue Quinn

With a face like a baseball that’s been through the wringer, celeriac’s a veg only a mother could love –aesthetically speaking.

Taste-wise, though, this knobbly root veg is brim full of earthy, nutty, savoury flavour. And the cooler seasons just wouldn’t taste right if it wasn’t on the menu.

A variety of celery cultivated for the root rather than the stalks, celeriac’s flesh is crisp when raw, yet soft and yielding when cooked. Moreover, its flavour has been likened to a cross between a potato and celery, with hints of earthy bitterness tempered by gentle sweetness. These virtues make celeriac immensely delicious and versatile in the kitchen, from cooking and mashing into delectably creamy mash to slicing raw into matchsticks for a punchyremouladeor slaw.

When shopping for celeriac, choose specimens that are firm all over, with no soft spots or obvious blemishes. A fresh celeriac in good condition should also feel heavy.Store in the salad drawer of your fridge, but only peel when you’re ready to cook, as celeriac discolours quickly once relieved of its skin.

Trim the ends with a sharp knife and then peel away the tough gnarly exterior. It might seem you’re cutting away too much vegetable, but this is as it should be.Chop or slice as per your recipe, then quickly immerse in a bowl of water that you have acidulated – spiked with a splash of lemon juice or white winevinegar. This will prevent the celeriac browning.

One of the loveliest ways to enjoy celeriac is to eat it raw. It’s superb in coleslaw or as the French do inremoulade; celeriac is much more beloved in France than in other parts of Europe.

Slice into fine matchsticks and dress with good mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice. This is wonderful to eat with cold ham, chicken, pork or duck either on their own or stuffed into a bread roll or sandwich. Add other sliced raw veg to the mix if you like; equal quantities of celeriac, apple and carrot make a very fine slaw.

Go fancy with the dressing if you crave more complex flavours. Add finely chopped herbs, capers, cornichons and/or chopped anchovy fillets to the mayo mix, as they all work well.

Celeriac is very much worth cooking, of course, especially as part of a hearty cold weather feast. Treat like any other root vegetable and roast slicked in oil until tender within andgolden without.

Mash is also divine. Cut into chunks and boil in salted water until tender, then mash with lots of butter and/or milk and/or cream, salt and few drops of truffle oil if you fancy being fancy. If the flavour is just a little too earthy for you, swap out some of the celeriac for potatoes. The same trick works a treat in dauphinoise – just slice equal quantities of celeriac along with the potatoes and follow the recipe.

Consider tucking chunks of celeriac into stews for added interest and flavour. Hearty beef or venison stews welcome celeriac with open arms instead of potatoes, or as well as if you like. The flesh will soak up the rich flavours and whisper some well received earth notes into the sauce.

In the same way, celeriac makes a rich and velvety soup. Cook off some chopped onion and/or leek and/or carrots in olive oil until very soft, and add some chunks of celeriac. Cook, stirring only occasionally, to lightly brown. Add other vegetables to the pot if you like – try chopped potatoes, carrots, squash or even mushrooms. Cover with vegetable or chicken stock and simmer until the veg are tender. Blitz until creamy then add a splash of cream and/or a touch of cheese – any soft blue is delicious – to really ramp up the flavour.

Celeriac makes a fine addition to clearsoups, too, ideally alongside other bold and rich flavours. Try a broth with chunks of lamb, cubes of celeriac, barley and sliced leafy greens. Kale is suitably assertive.

To top off its list of gustatory accomplishments, celeriac’s a nutritional titan, too. Agreat source of vitamins C and K, it also contains concentrated amounts of vitamins B6, potassium, phosphorous, beneficial plant compounds and fibre.It’s particularly good for bone health.

Celeriac might be an ugly duckling, but it’s very much a case of beauty coming from within.

Celeriac loves: potatoes, butter, chestnuts, game meats like partridge and venison, lamb, brassicas like cabbage and kale, truffle, mushrooms.

Sue Quinn

Sue Quinn is an award-winning food writer, journalist and cookbook author. Her articles and recipes regularly appear in national newspapers and magazines, including the Telegraph, The Sunday Times, the Guardian, delicious, The Washington Post and BBC Good Food magazine. She has written fourteen cookbooks on a range of topics, from Japanese and Spanish cuisine to children’s cookery and vegan food. Her latest, Cocoa: an exploration of chocolate, with recipes, was published by Quadrille in 2019 to wide acclaim. In 2018 Sue won the Guild of Food Writer’s Award for articles showcasing British food producers, and in 2016 she received the Fortnum & Mason Online Food Writer Award for her work in the Guardian and the Telegraph. Sue has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme and Woman’s Hour, and Channel 4s’ Sunday Brunch. In 2019 she was awarded a bursary from the Guild of Food Writers to research the life of British Food Writer Florence White. Trained as a journalist in her native Australia, Sue now lives by the sea in Dorset with her husband, two teenage children and a loveable hound Cookie.

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