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15 December 2008

celery root

celery root

Life has a way of keeping me on my toes.

For weeks we kept warm with our work, rising to the bait of starting to panic at an impending deadline. There were moments when I felt like my brain was baking in the heat of it all, the responsibilities and expectations. The Chef and I reminded each other to breathe. And there was always Little Bean, whose smile lights up a room and obliterates our tiny, panicky brains. But still, the days marched inexorably forward.

And then, a surprise. Not a good one. One of those big-scary-adult surprises, the life-and-death, consider-your-own-mortality surprises. Our little family is fine. Little Bean continues to be robust and alive. But someone we love is facing scary decisions, the ones that press on the head with all the implications. There have been tearful conversations and hesitations, so many hopes for a good outcome. We feel like everything will be fine. But I have to admit — I'm feeling a little like that cookie you poked too soon in the oven, and it comes out lopsided and dented.

We have an extension on the deadline for the book. Bless our editor, who understands. (And there's plenty of time anyway, it turns out.) Even still, with three more weeks, we now feel released from that selfish anxiety of a book turning out well.

And in these days, I'm more in love than ever with humble foods. Little Bean has fallen in love with her carrot rattle. And for days, the Chef and I have been eating celery root.

Before I met the Chef, I had never eaten celery root. I'd seen celeriac written on fancy menus of restaurants I could not afford, but I had never figured out what it was. The root of the celery plant. Could there be a more humble vegetable than celery? We think of it as plain and bland, but take a deep smell the next time you hold it in your hand. There's a pungency there, a faint bitterness underneath the sweet smiling green. Celery root -- look closely at the photograph above and you can see where the celery grows -- is that smell, intensified. Hairy and knobbly, this root defies attraction. Who looks at that and says, yum?

We do. This evening, the Chef made us a celery root-parsnip mash, a recipe we're still working out for the book. It had the faint honeyed sweetness of parsnips, a pungent hit from the celery root, and the familiar quotidian joy of russet potatoes. With a mushroom gravy, this small meal made me happy. Just that. Happy.

That feels like these days: familiar quotidian joy; honeyed sweetness; and a pungent hit. And it seems to me that all those years, when I couldn't imagine eating something called celeriac, I was just afraid of what I did not know.

That feels familiar too. Sometimes, the hairy knobbly bits turn out to be friends.

And so, how did you get over your fear of celery root? How do you like to cook it, to make yourself feel here?

p.s. Thank you to my friend Becky, who uses words like persnickety, one of only many reasons I adore her:

"Not to be persnickety but celeriac and celery are in the same family but not the same thing. Celeriac is cultivated for its root instead of for its stalk or leaves. So people shouldn't be disappointed if they don't find much going on root-wise when they pull up their regular celery. "

36 Comments:

At 11:28 PM, Blogger katie stone said...

i love, love, LOVE celery root. it is fantastic in purees, which we are using at the restaurant right now with bay scallops and a potato gillette. divine.
very good in agnolotti as well!
best wishes with the family heath issues, good health is a highly undervalued blessing.
much love to you and your family,
katie

 
At 4:56 AM, Blogger Zoë said...

I've only ever eaten it raw...in a salad made with ham and pineapple which I had in Germany. I loved it, though I haven't made it since. Maybe I should...

 
At 5:24 AM, Blogger Hannah said...

It's not so bad cut up into slices and along the side of some yummy hummus or other dips. Happy Holidays!
Hannah

 
At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember eating it in France shredded with a dijon vinagrette made with cream instead of oil. It was so good. I love it, but for some reason, I haven't really eaten it since I came back to the States.

 
At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Ana said...

Celery root confuses me. About the only thing I've done with it is tossing it into a soup. Looking forward to seeing the finished celery root& parsnip mash in the cookbook!

 
At 6:08 AM, Anonymous Ricki said...

So sorry to hear about your loved one! I hope everything turns out for the best and you're not all too disoriented by it.

I LOVE celery root! (And I have to say, that is the LEAST gnarly celery root I've ever seen!). I love it in a curried root vegetable chowder with dumplings that I make all the time in winter. Your celeriac-parsnip mash sounds wonderful, too. Ugly certainly can be delicious.

 
At 6:41 AM, Blogger sweetpea said...

I first meet celeriac shortly after my partner went to AZ and came home carrying on about this "puree" she had eaten in a restaurant. Now my partner does not have an adventursome pallet. I was off and running trying to recreate a puree she could hard describe, only knowing it tasted like celery. Not much to go on. When I discovered one of my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks had a recipe for something with celery root I thought I might have found a match. Now I am a savvy cook and I do know a thing or two but I had never heard of celery root and from the description and instructions in the recipe I figured I would just "peel" some celery stalks and go from there. The dish turned out just fine but Tina said it wasn't "earthy enough". I looked up celery root and discovered the actual root and made the dish again. "This is it! This is it," she exclaimed the next night. It really is a wonderful root and adds a great deal of flavor to any puree or soup. I am curious about Katie Stone's bay scallops and potato gillette, that sounds so wonderful!!!!!!

 
At 6:48 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

do you just dig it up at the end of the season? i grew celery 2 years ago & tried to dig it up to use the root at the end of the season, but it didn't look like that. i'm thinking maybe it hadn't been growing long enough. any advice out there?

 
At 7:10 AM, Anonymous Dana McCauley said...

Perspective is everything isn't it? I think the humble celery root is an under appreciated veggie.

Thanks for reminding all of us to give it a second thought.

 
At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Lobugas said...

Hi Shauna,
Your blog is wonderful. I got to know celery root through my local CSA, and I love cooking with them, although at this point, that's just limited to roasting along with other root vegetables. I recently wrote about a dish here:

http://lobugas.tumblr.com/post/64999525/taters-taters

Now I'm excited to try mashing it up with some parsnip!

 
At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I'm sending good thoughts your way right now, Shauna. I hope everything works out happily and healthfully for the one you're concerned about.

Onto celeriac. Celery root surprised the heck out of me. I can't believe I lived my life without it for so long. Then one day there was a recipe for a root vegetable stew with cheddar biscuits cooked on top, and it had celeriac in it. It's so sweet and the consistency isn't weird. (Somehow I thought it would be because it's celery--I detest that stringy thing celery has going on.)

Anyway, LOVE IT! When I get a bite that's potato but I thought it would be celeriac, I'm disappointed. Go, weird veggies!

Kelley

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Bethany said...

@ Mindy,
I once thought the same...celery root=root of celery. But, although they are related, celeriac is a separate vegetable that (we are so thankful) grows here better than celery.
Our CSA encouraged us to try this fabulous food and I love it in winter soups. All the flavor of celery (and more) with none of the awkward stringiness.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Jennwynn said...

Don't tell anyone, but now you know that deadlines are really just suggestions in the publishing industry... ;-)

Semi-seriously, as editors we plan for writers to be late -- it happens so often. I'm actually surprised when someone's on time.

Here's hoping whatever's going on has the very best of outcomes!

Hugs! And thanks as usual for contributing your marvelous voice to my day!

Jenn

 
At 9:07 AM, Anonymous La Niña said...

Celery root graced our Thanksgiving table in a big bowl of garlic-sage-mashed potatoes-mixed-with-celery root. It's great mashed with potatoes.

I hope things will improve on the home front... see you soon. -xo-

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

For several years (probably since the recipe came out) we've been making Martha Stewart's leek-celery root stuffing at Christmas, using rice bread (homemade of course! [oh, okay, from a mix in a machine]). Whoever eats the last of it the next day gets reproachful looks from everyone else, because we ALL love it, kids included. The celery root is roasted and gets a lovely caramel sweetness to it. Highly recommended.

 
At 9:28 AM, Blogger mina said...

i never tried celeriac before i moved to denmark! of course when one lives in orange county, california, there are so many options that i never bothered to find or whip up a nice 'winter' dish. so in copenhagen, where me and my roommates were experiencing REAL winter, our flat was having a nice julefrokost (christmas lunch) and i decided to use some winter roots for a light dish since the boys were bringing herring, homemade frikadeller, and pate with bacon. meat overload! @_@;

coarsely (read: messy) chopped celeriac, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, apples, mushrooms, and dried apricots tossed together in some olive oil and honey and then roasted. everyone enjoyed it and since these ingredients are rather inexpensive, this may become a staple dish for me! at least, until i land a job. :x

ps. i love your writing so much and best wishes to your family! (:

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Cher said...

Add me to the celeriac lovers -- the taste is so bright and fresh it makes my heart sing -- especially in the depths of winter when you most miss the abundance of spring and summer.

My first taste of it was in a root veg mash, covered with a fabulous gruyere (I still think
fondly of that dish to this day). But just last night, we made a fresh, garlicky potato celeriac soup. Simple and delish.

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger Corrie said...

We just got this from our CSA and ended up pureeing it with some potatoes and turnips, topping it with a lentil mixture and some pork tenderloin. Here's the recipe we used: http://tinyurl.com/5nbpxv

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Becky said...

Shauna:

Possibly my most favorite vegetable. I love how ugly it is on the outside. It keeps people away from it so I never worry there will be some grocery store smack-down for the last one. Until now. :)

Not to be persnickety but celeriac and celery are in the same family but not the same thing. Celeriac is cultivated for its root instead of for its stalk or leaves. So people shouldn't be disappointed if they don't find much going on root-wise when they pull up their regular celery.

Hoping good news is around the corner for your family. See you soon!

 
At 4:42 PM, Blogger milhan said...

I've never eaten it, but my father likes to make it Turkish style, cooked w/carrots, rice, olive oil, and dill. Served warm or cold with extra olive oil drizzled over, and fresh lemon juice(I make the same dish, but with leeks instead of celery root).

 
At 7:45 PM, Blogger The Chatty Housewife said...

The first and only time I had celery root was alongside some amazing salmon at the Salish Lodge at Snowqualmie Falls. It was so yummy! It was just sliced and steamed, served with some sort of sauce. My husband and I had just gotten engaged moments before and were celebrating.

 
At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello... I've never commented on your blog before but I'm a long-time reader and couldn't resist chiming in about one of my favorite vegetables! In Turkey, where I'm from, we make a very easy dish with celeriac: simply peel and grate the raw root, then mix with a little lemon juice (to prevent it from browning), some yogurt, minced garlic, chopped walnuts and salt and pepper. You'll be surprised at how delicious and refreshing this simple preparation turns out to be!

 
At 8:36 PM, Anonymous audrey said...

I've enjoyed it as a bisque but especially love it in a chowder with wild rice, leeks, and thyme. Yum. I might have to go get myself some celery root.

 
At 1:30 AM, Blogger Nicole said...

i was forced to discover celery root when i moved to eastern europe. celery just isn't available year-round, and even in season it's hard to find any that isn't short and limp. enter celery root! now i use it as a substitute for just about any recipe calling for celery.

 
At 2:00 AM, Anonymous Mari said...

Celery root is great, and not at all scary... My favorite recipe is the one Clotilde posted on C&Z a few years ago, celeriac and sweet potato soup. It's a good basic recipe to play around with, easy to make and tastes great.

 
At 5:59 AM, Blogger Pille said...

It's interesting how differently we experience flavours. I would never think of a celeriac as bitter or pungent - to me, it's a nutty and mild-tasting vegetable with plenty of character. I love it raw, cut into sticks, but also in mash and salads.

 
At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Karla said...

I've always seen it in the produce department and wondered to myself 'who would ever buy that root and what on earth would they do with it?'. I can't wait to read your recipe in your upcoming book. You have indeed tapped into what I see as the blessing of Celiac Disease; stopping to look at ingredients that were never before on my radar and expanding the range of tastes. Thanks for teaching us and inspiring us!!!

 
At 8:13 AM, Anonymous beyond said...

i love celery root. we had it often as i was growing up, maybe it's more of a european staple. i like it as part of a vegetarian tomato sauce. onion, garlic, carrot, celery root (all chopped and caramelized in olive oil), add canned tomatoes, chili flakes, vegetable bouillon, pepper, any fresh or dried herb you like. pureed or left chunky.

 
At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My two cents on celeriac...

But first you must know that I became hooked on your blog because of the writing and love of food. Six months later I discover my future daughter-in-law is gluten-intolerant. And I have a passion for all things baked.

For the past month, I have started experiments baking different root veggies together au naturale until tender (okay, maybe just a pat or two of butter!). Our favorite combination has been butternut squash, carrots, and parsnips. And then I braved the fear of the unknown and exchanged celeriac for the carrots. This time I pureed the roasted veggies together with a little heavy cream. The result was awesome. We will never be able to return to plain mashed potatoes again!

And then I check into your blog to see my new favorite detailed. Too much for coincidence, I say. Sending some positive thoughts your way for support during your troubled time. May there be strength, always hope, and treasure your love. Peace.

 
At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Sho said...

I never knew about celery root before reading your post(s.) All I know about celery is that chicken soup would not be chicken soup without it. Celery root sound delicious--at least in YOUR recipe!

 
At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Sho said...

To your friend facing scary decisions:

Reading that was enough! I don't need to know the situation and who you are. My prayers are with you. Something tells me that if Shauna has a feeling it will all work out that it WILL work out.

Shoshannah

 
At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but I can't stand celery and no way do I think it is bland. I could go on and on about why, but now maybe I realize why people put it in everything without a second thought. Do most people REALLY think it's "bland" as in, no flavor? One tiny speck of it in my salad or sandwich just ruins my appetite. It is the one food I will never develop a taste for. I use it in mirepoix, and if it is cooked or stewed enough, it loses its characteristic flavor which is what I do not like, I can eat it then. But, I always have to ask when I see the little green specks, if that is celery, or in a restaurant when ordering something that might have celery as an ingredient. I think it has the smell and flavor of an antiseptic or disinfectant. Sorry to be such a boor!

(Will you write about mushrooms soon, or again? I LOVE mushrooms, and I bet there are folks who feel the same way about mushrooms as I do about celery!)

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Kinderhook said...

We love celery root. I recently introduced it to my husband who's now the family cook. At Thanksgiving he threw the leftover half of one in the water w/ some sliced garlic and potatoes. Then he mashed them all together w/ a little cream and butter. It was the BEST mashed potatoes I've ever eaten. I'm going to always want my mashed potatoes w/ a little celery root in them. Yummers!
I hope your family member is okay and continues on to good health.

 
At 7:55 PM, Blogger Clare said...

I love celeriac! The first time I had it was as a slaw sitting under the world's best Dungeness crab cake. Since then, I have always associated the crisp, fresh taste of celery root with the decadence of crab. Mmmmm...
Since that first introduction, I have made my own celeriac slaw with apples, and it was delicious.

 
At 11:49 PM, Blogger Gemma said...

I hate celery raw, appreciate what it does when cooked, but love celeriac - usually mashed or in soup.

Oh and some reassurance, hopefully. As a production person for a publishing company I supply/dictate schedules for books and if you were given an initial deadline then, trust me, there was plenty of time left in that schedule to allow for delays at this early stage. There are always delays!

 
At 9:41 AM, Blogger Lauren Denneson said...

I wish all the best for your loved one.

 

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