Sunday, November 7, 2010

For My Husband on our Anniversary (recipes #24 and 23)

There aren't many things on the Thanksgiving table that I recreate year-round on a whim; roast turkey just doesn't make sense on a  sweltering August evening (unless grilled - another thing ENTIRELY). One of my perennial classics is my homemade mashed potatoes, which my hubby reveres as THE BEST EVER, though I contend that I have yet to find a really inedible mashed potato; even the box stuff can be 'doctored' to work. As an everyday food, mashed potatoes are about as comforting, delicious, and quick as you can get - 15 minutes to mushy goodness.
     The twist in my potatoes, which makes them just that extra something special, is that I use celeriac, or celery root, as a sub for some of the potatoes. Never heard of it? I bet you've passed it in the supermarket produce aisle, this knobby, dirty, ugly root that looks like a gargoyle's head buried underground for about a thousand years, then excavated and you're expected to EAT IT?!? How the hell do you even tackle it??

You might find it with the greens attached, but more than likely it will appear without. No fear. The greens are not true celery, but a close cousin; the root itself has been cultivated as the main focus here. However, if you DO get the greens, don't throw them out - cut off, freeze, and use in making soup or stock. They have incredible flavor still.
So, why try it? If you've never considered, I encourage you to start this Thanksgiving. Celeriac has a sweet, nutty flavor, like a celery that met a chestnut, had a baby, and then cooked and ate that baby. It is considered a root vegetable, so like your standard carrots and turnips, it stands up well to long, cool storage, making it a traditional winter staple food in the northeast and Europe. It is a unique, inexpensive, and innovative way to add excitement to your holiday table.
     Here are two ways to enjoy celeriac: first, my famous mashed potato a la Sean, and roasted celeriac. I hope you'll give this ugly duckling of the produce aisle a second look, and a new home in your belly. Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac (to serve a crowd)

3 pounds Yukon Gold or other all-purpose potato, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 to 2 pound celery root (1 large), scrubbed
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 cups milk
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c. chopped Italian Parsley
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Tackle the celery root: using a sharp chef's knife, stand the root on its flat end and cut the knobby skin away from the root, peeling all the way around. Use the knife tip to excavate out any dimples of dirt, then cut off top and bottom skin. Cut the root into chunks about the same size as your quartered potatoes. Put celeriac and potato into a large pot; cover with water to 1 inch above vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover pot and boil 15 minutes. Potatoes an celeriac should be tender when pierced. Drain and set pot back on a medium  burner. Melt the butter in the pot, add the garlic, and grate the onion into the butter on the fine side of a box grater. Saute 1 minute until just fragrant but not browning. Add back the potato and celeriac, and mash to tiny lumps using a potato masher. Add milk, starting with 1 cup, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to combine; add more milk as you find you need to make things creamy and smooth. Turn off stove. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper, stir in chopped parsley, and serve hot.

Simple Roast Celeriac

2 large celeriac roots, scrubbed
1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel celeriac as described in the above recipe, and cut into 1 inch chunks. Toss in a large bowl with the olive oil and salt. Roast on a sheet pan for 20-25 minutes, until beginning to brown, stirring halfway. Remove, sprinkle with thyme and white pepper, stir, and return to oven for 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and serve.
* *For an extra special level of indulgence, drizzle with white truffle oil after removing from oven, right before serving.**

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