Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Knobby Celery

Sitting in the market during these shortened days is a root vegetable so homely and seemingly inhospitable many give it a cursory, pitiful glance. Granted the celery root, or celeriac as the French refer to it, is not as coquettish as a brunch of grapes or alluring as Pink Lady apple or practical as a carrot, however, this vegetable is for me a foundation vegetable for the many soups, stews and salads I make all winter long. Ask this dear wall-flower to dance…..

A cousin the celery the celery root produces a very fibrous, bitter stalk and is therefore not eaten. Rather it is its swollen root stem that contains an earthy, celery flavor, which happily plays well with others. Visually the root base is not attraction by popular standards I give you that but once you peel away the knobby, browned skin a creamy, aromatic, white flesh awaits. Now a typical peel will break under the pressure of peeling so I highly recommend you use your chef’s knife to reveal the treasure that is hidden.

Buy celery root that is dense to the touch, and not wet. I try to find the most round examples nature has produced, as they are a tad easier to peel. Be warned that the meat of the vegetable once exposed to the air will start to oxidize so have a little bowl of water at the ready to drop the cut pieces in. In stews and soups the celery will survive nice long cooking periods leaving flavorful texture in your bowl. Try it as a appetizing additional to mashed potatoes.

Celery Root and Green Apple Salad - yields 6 to 8 servings
1 medium Red Onion
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 pound Celery Root
2 tart Apples such as Granny Smith, Mutsu
1/4 cup chopped Chives
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/4 pound blue cheese - crumbled
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

Slice the onion in half through its root base – by cutting the onion in this way you prevent it from falling apart on you as all the leaves of the onion attach at the root end. Trim off the stem and peel away its outer layer. Slice the onion into a very thin julienne, which will actually be a half moon shape. Toss the onions with vinegar in a work bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime, peel the celery root by cutting off the root and stem portions to create a flat, stable surface. Using a pairing or chef knife peel the skin from the celery root. Given the thickness of the vegetable’s skin I find it much easier to use a knife than a vegetable peeler. Slice the celery root into 1/4 inch panels and then cut those panels into 1/8 inch wide julienne strips. Place in with the onions and toss. Core the apples and slice into 1/8 inch thick julienne strips and toss with the onion mixture along with the chives, mustard, blue cheese, oil, salt and pepper.

Serve this salad cold or, I like to warm it before serving.

Split Pea Soup – serves 10 to 12

1 cup split green peas
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onion – diced
1 leek – whites only, diced
3 cloves garlic - minced
2 celery stalks – diced
1 large carrot – diced
1/2 pound turnip – peeled and diced
1/2 pound rutabaga – peeled and diced
1/2 pound celery root – peeled and diced
1/2 pound smoked ham hock
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves - chopped
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves - chopped
3 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the peas in 2 cups of cold water for 1 hour, and then drain.

Heat a 6 quart pot over a medium flame and add the oil, onion and leeks. Cook until the onions and leeks lose their raw look and are translucent.

Add in the garlic, celery, carrot, turnip, rutabaga, and celery root and cook for five minutes stirring occasionally. Add in the peas, ham hock, thyme, parsley and stock. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the soup for a minimum of 1-1/2 hour. Add addiiotnal water for the soup sarts to get too thick. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper, and dill. Serve hot.

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