For years I have passed by celeriac at the grocery store, unable to fathom how I would tackle this gnarly, unattractive root vegetable. My family doesn't even like parsnips, so how could I get them to eat celeriac?
Celeriac, also known as celery root, is the darling of French cuisine. You may find it tucked under Coq au Vin as a buttery puree at the Rendezvous Bistro
, or as a little torpedo on your plate at a fancy French restaurant.
After many days of foraging at the local grocery stores, I found this very fresh batch of celeriac at Jackson Whole Grocer. It is more commonly sold as just the root.
It took a French-trained chef to make me appreciate the simple, sweet, and subtle flavor of celeriac, and convince me that it was easy to make at home.
Alan Luther, straight from the Cordon Bleu in Paris, where he earned a Certificate in Cuisine, generously demonstrated how to prepare a celery root puree, and many, many other dishes, to a hungry group of cooking enthusiasts.
Alan showed us the proper way to dice a shallot. Keep the root end intact so that you can hold onto it while you finely slice in two planes.
Elly and Rachel hosted the night of cooking and learning, eating and drinking, oohing and aahing over the delicious French food. I was also oohing and aahing over Alan's tool box: filled with knives, a chinois, molds, tart pans, and all sorts of unique and essential French cooking tools.
Rachel with molds of lemon filling, that will be frozen and then tucked inside a warm orange cupcake, creating a soft creamy filling.
To make the celery root puree, we cut the gnarly brown skin from the celeriac, and chopped the root into 2 inch chunks.
Then, we simmered the celeriac pieces in equal parts milk and water with a little salt, until soft, about 30 minutes.
Cindee is tossing rather large pieces of celeriac into the pot, to simmer gently in equal parts milk and water.
Once the celeriac was soft enough to pierce easily with a fork, Alan showed us how to make a smooth puree using a food mill. He then added salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
The Puree de Celeri-Rave (celery root puree) was then plated with the L'Agneau En Croute (herb crusted lamb loin wrapped in lamb saddle) and Haricots Verts au Lard (French green beans with bacon). Oui, oui, c'est bon!
It was finished with a drizzle of reduction sauce made from the lamb scraps, white wine, port wine, and a mirepoix (see below for your culinary word of the week).
Erika is a pro at assembling the Haricot Vert au Lard. Let's just call it Green Beans wrapped in Bacon, and leave the Lard for the French.
The easiest dish we learned, by far, was the French green beans with bacon. The green beans are trimmed, and boiled in salted water until done but still crisp, then plunged into an ice water bath. They are towel dried, then bundled with bacon. Then reheated in the oven just until the bacon is done. Skewers are removed, and the bundles are cut in half, so they stand up straight on the plate.
French green beans wrapped in bacon are baked just until the bacon is done.
As the dishes are plated, Dottie takes a much needed water break.
Lovely to look at, delicious to eat, and so easy. Easy-peasy, as Elly would say.
Elly is a wonderful, intuitive cook. I have enjoyed so many amazing meals at her house, made even more enjoyable by her famous Southern hospitality.
The celery root puree was easy to re-create at home, although I opted to masquerade mine as "mashed potatoes" to make it through the gauntlet of the family dinner.
Short Ribs of Beef in Red Wine and Port, with a Cilantro Orange Gremolata, with Celery Root Puree.
Served beside a man-friendly, kid-friendly dish of Short Ribs of Beef in Red Wine and Port, no one suspected they were gulping down a root vegetable. Our family dinner was punctuated by "Great potatoes, Mom", and "Yummy mashed potatoes", and "Can I have more mashed potatoes, Mommy?" Hee, hee, hee.
By the way, if you are cooking for your sweetie this Valentine's Day, and he or she is a meat-and-potatoes enthusiast, the recipe for Short Ribs of Beef in Red Wine and Port would be the perfect entree, served with celery root puree, of course. And maybe some of those French green beans if you have the energy. Look for the recipe in my next post.
Celery root puree (Puree de Celeri-Rave)
My recipe is a bit different than Alan's, since I added a potato and an onion to make it more kid-friendly. I also made my puree thinner so that it felt more like mashed potatoes. It is easy to make a thicker puree like Alan's by adding less liquid.
I also used a food processor instead of a food mill (don't have one of those!), which worked fine, but be careful not to over-process the puree, or you'll end up with a gummy dish.
My version was inspired by Dorie Greenspan's recipe for "go-with-everything celery root puree", in her book Around My French Table.
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups water
- 1 Tbsp. salt, for boiling, and more for seasoning
- 2 celery roots, about 1 1/4 lbs each (without the attached celery), cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
- dash of nutmeg (optional)
- snipped fresh chives, or pistachio oil for garnish (optional)
Celeriac has many names: celery root, celery knob, turnip rooted celery, knob celery, and of course.....celeri-rave. If you can't find it at the market, ask the grocer. They may have a fresh bunch in the back.
- Warm the milk, water, and 1 Tbsp. salt to almost boiling in a large pot.
- Add the celery root, onion, and potato, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are easily pierced with a fork.
- Drain, reserving some liquid to thin the puree if necessary.
- Puree the vegetables in a food processor with the butter until perfectly smooth, but not so much to make them gummy.
- Taste. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg (if using).
- Puree a bit more. Taste. Add more seasoning or butter if needed. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to thin to desired consistency.
- Keep warm until serving time. Drizzle with pistachio oil, or top with chopped chives, if you wish.
Alan also showed us how to make Aumonieres de St. Jaques, Sauce Vin Blanc. Translation: Crepe Purses filled with Scallops, in a White Wine Sauce. Want the recipe? Another time...
Mirepoix (mihr-PWAH): A mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs sauteed in butter. Sometimes ham or bacon is added. Mirepoix is used to season sauces, soups and stews, as well as for a bed on which to braise foods, such as meats or fish. A white mirepoix omits the carrots and often incorporates mushrooms and/or parsnips.
From The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst.