Debby Maugans, food writer based in Asheville, North Carolina, and author of Small Batch Baking, Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers and Farmer and Chef Asheville.
Bottom Line: It's called the Cinderella vegetable for a reason!
Celery root, aka celeriac, isn’t pretty—it’s knobby, splotchy and usually travels with clumps of dirt. But there’s a reason why it’s called the Cinderella vegetable.
Once you carve off the bumps, rootlets and random veins of soil trapped in its uneven skin, you’ll discover a milky-white flesh with a flavor that hints of celery with a tinge of parsley. (It’s not the root of celery, but of a distant cousin.) The celery/parsley flavors and crunchy textures are refreshing when you eat celeriac raw, but it’s even better when you cook it—a sweetness comes through.
Food writer Debby Maugans, author of the farm-to-table cookbook Farmer & Chef Asheville, told us how to make celeriac a delicious and memorable crowd pleaser…
Small to medium-sized celery roots taste better than the biggest ones. They last about two weeks in your refrigerator crisper drawer. When you’re ready to use one, peel it as you would a pineapple—the outer skins are full of ruts and ridges, so you may end up cutting off a fourth of the exterior just to get to the smoother interior. Use a large, heavy, sharp knife, such as a seven-to-10-inch chef’s knife. First, cut off each end. Then hold the root, trimmed end down, on a cutting board, and slice downward from the top to take off the peel in strips, turning it as you go.
Rinse the peeled celery root and the cutting board and knife. To keep peeled and/or cut roots from browning while you work on any recipe, you can drop them into a bowl of water that has a little lemon juice in it (but don’t leave thin slices in water for longer than about 20 minutes). Be sure to pat the peeled root pieces dry with paper towels before cooking them.
Bonus: If the celery root you buy has stems and leaves attached, add them to stocks, soups and stews for a robust celery flavor—and eat them as part of the dish.
Now comes the fun part…
Bake it into fries. Preheat the oven to 450°F. To serve three to four, cut about two pounds of peeled celery root into fries of whatever size you like. Toss cut pieces with one tablespoon olive oil and three-quarter teaspoon of garlic powder. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake until browned and tender—30 to 40 minutes—turning the slices once. Sprinkle with two to three tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese while hot.
Mash it with potatoes. Submerge equal amounts of peeled, cubed celery root and peeled, cubed russet potatoes in half milk/half water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling until tender. Drain, reserving some of the liquid. Mash, add salt and butter to taste, and add back enough reserved cooking liquid to make the mixture creamy. (For bolder celery root flavor, double the celery root, omit the potatoes and use all milk as the cooking liquid. Milk softens celery root and sweetens its flavor.) Serving suggestions…
Roast it with sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Toss two small peeled-and-diced celery roots and two medium peeled-and-diced sweet potatoes with one tablespoon of melted butter or olive oil, one-half teaspoon of Greek seasoning salt and one-half teaspoon of dried oregano. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a roasting pan. Roast until browned and tender, turning them occasionally—30 to 40 minutes.
Shave it to add a crunch to salad. Cut a peeled celery root, from top to bottom, into three pieces about equal in size. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the celery root pieces into a large bowl—they should be as thin as possible and look like shavings of Parmesan cheese. Add torn leaves of a mild lettuce (such as butter, Bibb or Boston) and thin strips of julienned green onions. Toss with a vinaigrette, and shave some Parmesan over the top of each serving…finish with freshly ground black pepper.
Finally, here’s a gratin recipe inspired by the baked russet potato dish Potatoes Anna—very thin slices of celery root are arranged in layers of concentric circles and baked. Celery root starch, while not as sticky as that of potatoes, holds the layers together as you cut the baked dish into wedges.
Makes six to eight servings
The trick to this recipe is to slice the vegetable very thinly—almost paper thin. A box mandolin works great for this, but a good sharp knife will work fine if you slice patiently. Pat the slices dry on paper towels before assembling.
5 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
2 (one-pound) celery roots
6 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Brush two teaspoons of the butter on the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (or larger) ovenproof skillet. (You also can use a quiche dish, a springform pan lined with foil or a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan.)
Wash the celery roots, and dry with paper towels. Slice away the peel using a large, heavy, sharp knife. Rinse again and dry. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, slice crosswise into very thin slices (about 1/16-inch). Place one slice in the center of the skillet, then arrange a layer of slightly overlapping slices around the center slice. Using the tip of a pastry brush, lightly dab one teaspoon of the melted butter over the positioned slices, taking care not to move them. Sprinkle with two tablespoons of the Parmesan, one teaspoon of the thyme, one-third of the salt and some freshly ground pepper. Repeat layers at least twice or until all the slices are used.
Cover the skillet or baking dish tightly with foil and bake 25 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake until the celeriac is tender and the top is browned, 25 to 30 minutes more.
Remove from the oven, and let cool five to 10 minutes. Invert onto a baking sheet, and then invert again onto a platter so that the browned layer is on top. Cut into wedges to serve.