Celeriac, also called celery root, may look forbidding, but within that gnarled pale-green monster is a very tender heart. Cut away the tangled, ropy exterior and you’ll find pearly flesh with a creamy texture and mild flavor that’s softer and yet deeper than celery. It’s fabulous roasted and in salads, soups, gratins and purées.
This slow-growing root is harvested before frost in the fall and because it stores so well, is often available until spring. If we’re trying to eat seasonal and local in winter, celeriac (along with parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more) should be on our list. Choose a celery root that’s firm and solid throughout, and heavy for its size, since occasionally the interior can be a bit spongy.
The first step in preparing celery root is the hardest. You must be fearless and a bit ruthless. Cut off the top of the smoother end, then work the knife down along the sides, following the root’s shape and removing as little of the flesh as possible. Use a paring knife to trim out as much of the brown skin as you can, but no worries if a few bits remain. Once peeled, the root will discolor as soon as it’s cut, so hold the pieces in water with a little lemon or vinegar or in the salad dressing until ready to use.
Celeriac is best known for its role in the French salad called celeriac rémoulade that’s often served as a first course. The sharp mayonnaise-based dressing spiked with mustard plays up this root’s earthy mineral notes that distinguish it from sweeter roots, such as carrots and parsnips.
This salad is a snap to make and also makes a nice side to roast meat and game. But don’t stop there. This big root is so large that I rarely use the whole thing in one dish. After you’ve tried the Celeriac and Apple Salad here, toss whatever is left into a pot of simmering potatoes for a silky vegetable purée.
Unlike celery itself, this root’s flavor is so subtle that it will not dominate other ingredients, so add it to your soups and stews with abandon. Try adding celeriac to stir-fries and sautés and toss cubes into the roasting pan with chicken or pork to serve as a side dish. Celeriac’s nutty notes work nicely with cheese, so include slices in a creamy gratin. Once you cut into the knobby, whiskery, impenetrable root, you’ll find that the makings of beautiful dishes await.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.