Farmers market stalls may be more dramatic in the summer months, the tables loaded with aromatic stone fruit and wildly colorful heirloom tomatoes, but this is precisely the wrong time to ignore your local markets, laden as they are with wonderfully useful, often underappreciated produce. We're also heading into prime holiday cooking season, just the time to start surveying the landscape and maybe even testing out a few recipes.
November is a terrific month for root vegetables, with farmers bringing in beets and parsnips, rutabagas and turnips along with the requisite squash and pumpkins. There's a reason, of course, that you'll find much of those on Thanksgiving menus. One thing that you might overlook — but shouldn't — is celeriac, or celery root, which look like enormous bunches of celery stalks protruding from a bulb of oddly gnarled roots, like Tim Burton's idea of a winter vegetable.
Many people pass up celeriac, probably because it looks a lot harder to cook with than, say, a potato. But celery root is glorious, earthy and beautifully fragrant, and not nearly as much of a hassle to cook with as it appears.
Even though the larger celery roots look the most interesting, choose smaller ones, as they're not as tough and thus easier to peel. Because peel these you do, boiling or roasting them as you would potatoes. Save the greens and use them in soups: They're stronger and more vegetal than celery greens, and are marvelous minced and tossed into vegetable soups or gratins. Anyway, lots you can do with celeriac. Here are five particularly great recipes.
Regardless of your views on Jamie Oliver's civic ideas and general methodology, he can be a wonderful cook. The British chef is particularly good with comfort food, and his smashed celeriac is a simple recipe that's not only easy to accomplish but pretty fun, too — Oliver loves cooking with his hands and having you mash up your food, when applicable. His smashed celeriac is a great seasonal side dish, with a nice addition of thyme and garlic.
Celeriac lends itself marvelously to gratins, as it's firm enough to slice thinly and easily (once you peel it), and flavorful enough to hold up to good, strong cheeses and fresh herbs. If you're a farmers market junkie, you'll likely have one or two or all of Deborah Madison's cookbooks already, as she's one of the finest cooks around for seasonal vegetables. Her gratin would pair wonderfully with a holiday bird. Or breakfast.
Celeriac lends itself extraordinarily well to soups, either diced and tossed in as you would carrots or potatoes, or pureed. David Lebovitz, the Paris-based chef who does a LOT more than desserts, has a lovely recipe for a pureed soup, simple and — as he points out– very cheap. He throws in some Rancho Gordo chile powder at the end, which sounds marvelous. Maybe pick up some great bread before you head into the kitchen for this one.
Another variation on the pureed celeriac soup idea, in his recipe Bittman adds cream and a touch of cumin and curry powder. One imagines this as a more elegant version, maybe passed through a tamis to make it particularly velvety, and paired with something like a roast pheasant. OK, we're extrapolating, but it's the season for it.
It's probably not much of a surprise that Yotam Ottolenghi likes celeriac, or that the chef and cookbook author has a simple yet pretty brilliant recipe for the stuff. Here he cooks the celery root and pairs it with lentils, roasted hazelnuts and mint, and tosses it all with a lovely hazelnut vinaigrette. This is one of those dishes that could go on a table to accompany a big meal or would be great on its own, with some bread and cheese or just by itself — the perfect fall market salad.
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