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November 2, 2016
Celeriac: The Ugly Root Veggie Worthy of Love

My first season working at our local farmers’ market, I made it my mission to take home one new vegetable a week. My goal was to educate myself on every item so I could be ready with recipe recommendations for customers. When I reached for the celeriac, with its hairy and lumpy exterior, I had no idea what it was or what to do with it. But after those first few experiments, I realized I’d never make a beef stew without it again.

Celeriac (also called celery root) shows up at farmers’ markets in full force in fall and winter, usually placed beside colorful towers of other, more instantly lovable root vegetables, like beets and tender salad turnips. Although the outside is a rough moonscape of dips and swells, the inside is silky white, with a strong, almost floral celery scent.

celeriac

In France, they eat celery root raw, finely grated and stirred together with mayonnaise and cream for a salad that holds up so well it’s a standard in school cafeterias. In some celery-less countries, it’s used like our celery, finely chopped as an aromatic.

For me, it’s an essential ingredient in stews—starchy like a potato but filled with flavor. But currently, my favorite thing to do is blend it into soup. Doing this breaks down the celeriac into a silky and pale puree while maintaining its strong flavor. Celeriac must be peeled, but an ordinary OXO will inspire curses and tears. Instead, I suggest you slice the whole root into rounds and use a knife to chop off the rough edges.

This time of year, I seek out celeriac that’s firm, without any trace of sponginess. Once it’s prepped, I combine it with apples for a soup that’s warming and light. It’s great sprinkled with piment d’espelette, but if I want to fancy it up, I’ll top it with hazelnuts and blue cheese. Either way, it’s fall in a bowl. Simply perfect.

celeriac

CELERY ROOT, APPLE, AND LEEK SOUP
Makes about 1½ quarts

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups sliced leeks
½ cup roughly chopped onion
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1½ pounds celeriac, peeled and cubed
4 cups water
½ cup whole milk
Freshly ground pepper
For serving: piment d’espelette or smoked paprika

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat the butter and olive oil together over medium heat in a large pot. Let the butter brown, just slightly. Add the chopped leeks and onion, and cook, stirring often, until soft and shiny, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, nutmeg, and garlic and cook for another minute.

2. Add the celeriac, apples, and water to the pot. Cover and raise the heat to high. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples and celeriac fall apart, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. If you have an immersion blender, stick it into the pot and blend until smooth. Otherwise, transfer to an upright blender in batches and return to the pot. Add the milk, and taste to adjust salt and add pepper. Serve with healthy dusting of piment d’espelette, or smoked paprika.

Alana Chernila

Alana Chernila is the author of "The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making" and "The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure." She has contributed to Martha Stewart Living magazine and Food52. For more of her writing, visit eatingfromthegroundup.com.