Celeriac, aka celery root, is downright ugly, gnarled, brown and covered with tangled hairy roots.
But hack away the exterior and you’ll find a pearly white, firm, crunchy vegetable with a mellow celery flavor (and none of celery’s stringiness). In the depth of winter, celeriac is a nice balance to the sweeter root vegetables — beets, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes.
Despite its name, celery root is not a root at all. It’s the part of the plant between the stem and those roots. While all varieties of celery produce bulbs if left in the ground to grow, the celeriac in our markets is cultivated to produce those bulbs, not the stalks. In our co-ops and grocery stores, you’ll find celeriac trimmed of its stalks and you may find the entire plant (with its leafy stalks) in our wintertime farmers markets. Those stalks can be tough, stringy and assertive when raw and are best used to flavor soups and stews.
Look for celeriac that is firm, solid and heavy for its size. Store it in the crisper compartment of the refrigerator and use within the week. Be assertive when preparing celeriac. Scrub it under cold running water; then, using a very sharp, large knife, whack off the top and bottom as you would when peeling an orange.
Slide the knife down the sides to remove the skin as you go, making sure you cut away all the roots, to reveal the pretty white flesh. Expect to discard about a quarter of the celeriac by the time you’ve done this. Celeriac discolors quickly, so after chopping to size, immerse in a bowl of water acidulated with a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine vinegar.
Celeriac will cook in about 20 minutes when simmered and about 40 minutes when roasted. The French classic — celeri rémoulade — tosses matchstick slices of raw celeriac in a homemade aioli and is as elegant as it sounds.
How to love this ugly root? Let me count the ways:
• Add celeriac to your favorite recipe for mashed potatoes.
• Bake slices of celeriac with potatoes in a cheesy gratin.
• Use celeriac in place of celery in grain, chicken and bean salads.
• Add slices of celeriac to a pan of roast chicken.
• Roast chunks of celeriac with sweet potatoes, beets and carrots.
• Substitute celeriac for celery in soups, stews and pot roasts.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.