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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: September 5, 2013

Celeriac—The Under Appreciated

Root Vegetable

A few years ago friends were serving a wonderful early fall meal of fish, salad, and a mashed vegetable dish that combined cauliflower, roasted carrot, and  an unknown root vegetable. The unknown vegetable turned out to be celery root, also called celeriac, which has become one of my favorite and most  adaptable root vegetables harvested this time of year. I think I was slow to appreciate celeriac because of the vegetable’s bulbous, “hairy” appearance which doesn’t even sound good in print. It looks like an oversized dirty softball that has seen better days. But once you wash the dirt off which exposes thin roots covered with dirt masquerading as hair, the vegetable becomes more palatable and downright extraordinary to eat.

Celeriac cleans up easily by cutting off about ¼ inch at the top and the bottom of the “ball” which exposes crisp white flesh that’s almost like potato skin ready to cook. Continuing to cut the skin off the sides like an orange exposes a firm orb of deliciousness ready to cook. If you plan to mash the vegetable after boiling, then cutting it into quarters or eights will be adequate. Otherwise, cut the round vegetable in half and then cut each half across into ½ inch disks that can be cut into batons about 3-4 inches in length.  Placing the cut celeriac into a bowl of acidulated water will retard the vegetables from becoming brown until you are ready to cook them.  

The flavor of celeriac is very nutty with an oily smoothness. I find it can be eaten multiple ways: with a little olive oil; some shaved pecorino Romano and the juice and zest of a lemon; or with thin slices of black or green olives, capers and some good green olive oil. Or as discussed above, it’s terrific combined with some mashed potatoes or other root vegetables like carrots. Yotam Ottolenghi, the London food  writer  and author of the bestselling cookbook,  Jerusalem, suggests loosely combining with lentils, cucumber and dill salad dressed with sour cream and a bit of olive oil. Here’s another version of his recipe with hazelnuts and mint.

Celeriac And Lentils With Hazelnut And Min

Serves 4

(Inspired by Otam Ottolinghi in Plenty, another of his cookbooks)

Ingredients

½ cup whole hazelnuts (skin on)

1 cup green lentils

3 cups water

2 bay leaves

2 marjoram sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 small celeriac (1 ½ Lbs.)  peeled and cut into 3/8 inch julienne strips

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 tbsp. hazelnut oil

3 tbsp. good quality red wine vinegar

Salt and black pepper

4 tbsp. chopped mint

Directions

Preheat the oven to 275 F. Scatter the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Let them cool down, and then chop roughly. Combine the lentils, water, bay leaves, thyme and marjoram in a small saucepan. Boil and then simmer for 15 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a sieve. Meanwhile in a separate saucepan, cook the celeriac in boiling salted water for 8 to 12 minutes, or until just tender.  Drain. In a large bowl, mix the hot lentils with the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the hazelnut oil, the vinegar, plenty of salt and some black pepper. Add the celeriac and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve right away, stir in half the mint and half the hazelnuts. Pile onto a serving dish or in a bowl and drizzle the remaining hazelnut oil on top. Garnish with the rest of the mint and hazelnuts. To serve cold, wait for the lentils and celeriac to cool down before finally adjusting the seasoning and possibly adding some more vinegar. Add hazelnut oil, mint and nuts in the same way as when serving hot.