Veg to Table: Celeriac

Celeriac will always remind me of home, though not because I have fond memories of tucking into platefuls of the stuff as a child — on the contrary, as my dad will no doubt tell you. He’s eager to explain to anyone who will listen that he only discovered celeriac in his later years after spotting one at the veg shop looking sorry for itself, and now simply can’t get enough. By extension, the rest of us appear to have joined the cult.

“I’ve wasted so many years!” he’ll exclaim with actual, genuine horror. I love it.

Supposedly making up for lost time, now it appears regularly in soups and stews, with a halved bulb often seen sitting at the bottom of my parents’ fridge on standby. A strange symbol of home comfort, perhaps, but one that makes me smile all the same.

If you’ve not tried one before, it’s a knubbly root vegetable that looks like it’s a bit of a bruiser, but inside there’s a heart of gold. Eat it raw, and it’s crisp and crunchy; cook it slowly and you’ll find it’s soft and buttery.

While it’s also known as celery root, celeriac is technically a plant in its own right — although it does have similar green stems and leaves (also edible, by the way), they’re just a bit thinner. The flavour isn’t too dissimilar to that of celery, but its herbal, almost bitter taste is less intense, with the earthy, deeply-savoury notes of other vegetables like suede, turnip or parsnip.

To prepare, simply trim off the wispy fronds and tendrils (these won’t do any harm, they just tend to be a bit mucky) — I usually use a knife rather than bothering with a peeler. As you’ll probably struggle to get through the whole thing in one go, luckily it’ll last for ages in the fridge. Simply cover the cut side and don’t be alarmed by any bright orange spots that appear — just slice those off before using next time.

Its season in the UK generally runs from September to April, meaning there’s not too long left of its run, but I feel like deep winter is the best time to enjoy its crude charm.

Remoulade

Without doubt my favourite celeriac recipe is remoulade, a French dish that requires few ingredients and little brain power. Sure, if you don’t have a mandoline (a kitchen gadget I’ll never trust myself with), cutting the whole thing into matchsticks can take a while — but stick some music on and it feels effortless enough, even calming. If you’re not up to the laborious chopping, you could invest in a julienne peeler for a few quid; it’s a worthwhile investment, as I use mine all the time.

I often make a huge bowl of it as part of a spread, sometimes in place of a homemade coleslaw. It can sit quite happily for hours or even a couple of days in the fridge, meaning you can whip some up ahead of time.

Half a large celeriac
3 tbsp crème fraiche
2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp wholegrain mustard (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice or red/white wine vinegar
Small handful of chopped parsley
Salt

If not using a mandoline, cut into slices about the thickness of a pound coin. Stack them up then slice them into thin matchsticks. Add the crème fraiche gradually and combine until it coats the celeriac nicely, before adding the rest of the ingredients and tossing through.

Traditionally it’s made with mayonnaise, but I like the tang of crème fraiche — which can also be easily switched for yoghurt or double cream, depending on what you have or needs using up. In fact, it honestly would be no bad thing if you had no dairy at all (or wanted to make it vegan, for example), and opted to toss the sticks of celeriac in a sharper dressing made from Dijon and wholegrain mustard let down with some olive oil and lemon juice or red/white wine vinegar. For me it’s more about the pepperiness of the mustard than the creaminess of anything else. Play around, use what you have.

It works nicely as a side dish for things like pork chops, fish or steak, or as part of a spread at a barbeque. Also makes a delicious light lunch with a few slices of salty cured meat like parma ham or bresaola, and some watercress on the side.

I had my first portion on the side of some pan-fried trout, the next stuffed into a sandwich with capers, more parsley and salad and another as part of a veggie fry-up— though I also went to bed that day thinking how good it would be in a fish finger sandwich in place of tartare sauce… Next time, definitely.

Roasted Whole

Ottolenghi likes to roast his whole, which is a great way to slowly steam the innards without everything congealing into a pile of slush. He pierces the celeriac all over then lays it into a baking dish and rubs with olive oil, coriander seeds and salt, before roasting for two-to-three hours, basting regularly. The finished result is golden on the outside and soft and velvety inside. The recipe is from his book NOPI, but it was also published in Ottolenghi’s weekly Guardian column, which handily you can find here.

If you’re worried about getting too much colour, you can also wrap it in foil — or even salt-bake it, if you can be bothered with that.

Other Ottolenghi vibes you could go for include celeriac rosti and celeriac with lentils and hazelnuts, both of which I think sound pretty good.

In Mash

If you’re hoping to use celeriac for mash, remember that it tends to soak up a lot of water, meaning when it’s boiled before the obligatory pounding, things can end up a little soggy. To avoid it splitting and leaving you with a mound of fibrous mash sitting in a pool of lukewarm water, pop some potatoes in there too to give things a bit more of a backbone.

With Blue Cheese

Celeriac and blue cheese is a DELICIOUS combination. My parents often make celeriac soup, usually using up odds and ends of other vegetables that need to be eaten, and I always find myself dropping in chunks of whatever blue cheese they’ve got in the fridge. Amazing.

Many years ago I also inadvertently used this combination of flavours to make a ‘risotto’, although I use the term loosely, as what it was was a bit of a bloody shambles. I’d challenged myself to a week of going without any food packaging for an article, and this was at a time when self-serve, zero-waste shops weren’t quite a thing yet, so it was frankly an absolute pain in the arse. I’d managed to source some short-grain brown rice from Village Greens in Prestwich and popped some in tupperware to take home, where I already had some loose veg from the greengrocers. There was no stock, because that tends to come in foil or plastic pots, so I had to use water, some blitzed celeriac for creaminess and a lot of fresh herbs, in turn creating some sort of gloopy celeriac rice. God, I feel depressed just thinking about it.

By that point, I’d accidentally thrown myself into a crash-diet, and I’d totally run out of energy. Knowing that there was congealed rice waiting for me at home, I found myself crawling into a (now-closed) Spanish deli on Deansgate called Lunya, begging them to let me take anything with an ounce of flavour away in a tupperware. Of course, they said, and I walked out with a huge chunk of Queso de Valdéon, practically falling through my front door to crumble it liberally over my pathetic leftovers — and suddenly my life felt worth living again. The power of cheese.

Of course, you should just make an actual risotto, roasting up some celeriac and blitzing some up to stir through the rice while reserving the rest to chuck on top, along some of with that fateful day’s life saver: blue cheese. Whack some toasted walnuts or hazelnuts on too if you have some, or it’s also nice with some roasted tomatoes on there.

I also once had an amazing celeriac dish at a place called Belzan in Liverpool, where my friend Kyla and I caught up over a couple of bottles of wine. Sadly, I was too pissed to remember the specifics, but I know it involved soft, slowly cooked celeriac and oozy, melted cheese (maybe Tunworth?!). Whatever it was, it was genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

In a Mirepoix

Many dishes call for a base of onion, carrot and celery, also known as a mirepoix. But if you’ve got some celeriac knocking about, bash some of that in instead of a stick or two of celery.

Celeriac Fondant

Just like potato fondant, but with thick slices of celeriac instead. Simply fry in olive oil and butter before adding thyme and pouring in some stock, and simmering until tender.

I did it once with goats’ butter, which in hindsight just makes me sound ridiculous... Blame the Waitrose by Piccadilly Station, which has now been replaced by a Co-op. Probably for the best.

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Journalist currently working at LADbible, with previous experience at Time Out, The Skinny and others.

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