How can something that tastes so good look sooooo creepy? Even the cozy daylight-balanced produce-aisle lighting of Whole Foods can’t dispel the sense that something wicked this way comes whenever I get to the celery root bin. Hieronymus Bosch, H.P. Lovecraft and Arcimboldo rolled into one beat-with-the-heebie-jeebie stick vegetable. You know that scene in one of the Harry Potter movies where Harry and company have to wrestle screaming mandrake roots into pots? That’s how I feel about celery root, like it might suddenly contort in my hand as I lift it out of the bin. Forget pumpkins – celery root ought to be the official hobgoblin vegetable. If Celery Root Soup with Gorgonzola and Apple didn’t taste so good I’d probably just keep whistling and walk on by.
Lots of people avoid celery root because it just looks too gnarly to deal with. (I know, I know, I just ended a sentence with a preposition – so shoot me.) In point of fact celeriac, as the French refer to it, is easy to prepare, and has a few unusual taste combinations up its sleeve – it goes well with chestnuts, for example, with apples (I roasted the leftover apples from last weeks Lazy Man’s Sheet Pan Apple Tart with leftover celery root from this week’s recipe and it tasted great, despite finding myself in straightened culinary circumstances – no bacon!) and makes a spectacular marriage with blue cheese. If you follow the photos you can peel and dice celery root in a snap, which will open the door to this soup (everyone should taste Gorgonzola and celery root together at least once before they die) and add another alternative to the rut of same-o same-o potatoes and carrots as we forge ahead into roasting season. If you’re willing to grate celery root (or use the grating disk on your Cuisinart with the big holes) you can make celery root remoulade, which happens to be one of my favorite mayo-veggie salad combos of all time.
Celery root has a hidden bonus. With only a third of the starch content as a potato it can easily be substituted for the latter in recipes. A mildly fruity fragrance of celery, along with the flavor of celery and nuts will be added to the dish, but that’s not usually a bad thing, especially as an accompaniment to fish.
And as for celery root’s appearance, once you peel it you’re home free. Ignore the frisson of apprehension as you lift it from the vegetable bin. Those aren’t eyes, that’s not a mouth… or teeth… mwahahaha.
Special Note: To the thirteen thousand of you who stopped by our blog to take a look at Lazy Man’s Sheet Pan Apple Tart last week, thank you. I was, in a word, overwhelmed. To those whose comments in Russian or other interesting languages didn’t appear, I apologize. Please try again in English, however imperfect. Believe me, your English is better than my Mandarin or Tagalog. The volume of traffic prevented me from getting timely translations. You have my gratitude in any case. There’s something quite moving in the realization that people from all over the the world share a love for a simple apple tart. K.
Celery Root Soup with Gorgonzola and Apple
Makes 1 quart
- 1 large celery root bulb (about 20 ounces)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick, 1 cup
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 quart chicken stock
- ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
- ¼ cup diced apple tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon sliced sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled.
- Peel and dice the celery root by chopping off the top and bottom so the celery root will rest firmly on the cutting board. Slide the knife down the sides to remove the skin, then cut the peeled bulb in half. Lay each half flat on the cutting board. Using a chef’s knife cut each half into slices 1-inch thick. Lay the slices flat. Cut the slices into batons about an inch wide. Cut the batons into cubes. A 20-ounce celery root will yield about a pound of dice. Set the diced celery root aside while you start cooking. It’s not a problem if it starts to turn a bit brown with oxidation.
- Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onions until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Take care not to burn them. Transfer the cooked onions to a bowl.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the saucepan. Increase the heat to medium add the celery root, season with salt and pepper and sear on all sides, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute, then turn the heat to low. Return the onions to the pan and season with salt and pepper add the thyme and apple cider and reduce to a glaze, about 7 minutes. Add the chicken stock cover, and cook until the celery root is tender enough to purée about 45 minutes.
- Strain out stock and puree the solids, adding stock as needed to make a smooth puree. Return the puree with the chicken stock to the pan. Reheat and whisk in the cream and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Serve in warm bowls topped with the apples and Gorgonzola.
All of the peeling, slicing and dicing takes about 5 minutes.
When you’re faced with a new ingredient, start with what you know. Think about the newcomer’s relatives, and their flavor combinations. Not everyone is familiar with celery root, but who hasn’t had celery? And since celery is a natural partner to apples and blue cheese in a salad, I just substituted celery root for celery and then–because celeriac is a root vegetable and root vegetables make great soups–I turned the combination into a soup. Like most root vegetables, celery root benefits from slow cooking to bring out and caramelize its sugars. You could substitute parsnips or Macomber turnips in place of or in combination with the celery root in this recipe and you’d be fine.
Celery root oxidizes over time and will turn brown so if you want to cut and hold the root before cooking it, store it in acidulated water (water + lemon juice).
I deliberately opted to go with fresh thyme and fresh sage in this recipe. Either alone is fine, but if you have only the dried versions of these herbs I’d skip them altogether. I’m not prejudiced against dried herbs, it’s just that dried sage and thyme are quite strong and their flavor in this recipe would be a little too prominent.