There are fruits and vegetables whose appearance alone can make me salivate: fat heirloom tomatoes, juicy summer peaches, bright orange peppers. And then there are vegetables so ugly they look like a genetic abomination. Case in point: celery root.
Celery root, also known as celeriac, is quite possibly the world’s ugliest vegetable. It’s hairy, it’s dirty, it may or may not have emerged from John Hurt’s chest in Alien.
So what is this thing, and what does it taste like?
As its name suggests, celery root lives underground and is associated with a special variety of celery, but the part we eat isn’t the root itself. What we eat is part of the plant that channels nutrients between the root and the celery leaves. Unlike true root vegetables, which store lots of starch, celery root is only about 5-6% starch by weight.
After some serious peeling and cooking, the flavor of celery root is really wonderful: reminiscent of celery, with another more mysterious flavor I can’t put my finger on. The boiling celery root smelled, to me, faintly of mild curry, but it didn’t taste like curry, so I’m having trouble pinning it down.
Pureed with potatoes, butter and some salt and pepper, celery root is transformed into a creamy, luscious side — similar to mashed potatoes, but more complex. I can assure you that the sight of this hairy excuse for a veggie won’t have me smacking my lips any time soon, but the memory of this scrumptious puree certainly will.
Celery Root Puree
Adapted from a recipe by Daniel Boulud
2 lbs celery root
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
4 cups whole milk
4 cups water
2 tablespoons coarse salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Salt and pepper
Chop the green tops off the celery root and run the root under cold water, rinsing off as much dirt as possible. Peel the celery root using a vegetable peeler and/or a sharp knife, making sure to remove all the hairy bits at the bottom. Rinse the celery root again, then cut each one into 8 pieces.
Peel the potatoes and cut in half.
Place the celery root, potatoes, milk, water and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are easily pierced with a fork.
Pour the vegetables into a colander, discarding the liquid. Return the vegetables to the pan, cooking briefly over low heat, just to remove any excess moisture from the vegetables.
Transfer the celery root and potatoes to a food processor and process with the butter, just until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve. You can also refrigerate the puree overnight and reheat it in the microwave or over a double boiler.
Yield: 6-8 servings (I got about 8 single servings)