A Salute to Celeriac

Katie Cannon/ Heavy Table
Katie Cannon/ Heavy Table

“Beaten with the ugly stick” is really the only way to describe celeriac (celery root). But if you can look beyond its rough brown surface and tangle of roots, you’ll find flesh that proves more versatile that one might imagine. In understanding the unknown, let’s start with the more known, celery.

Celery has a reputation for blandness. Besides pairing with peanut butter, it’s most commonly stereotyped as a “dieters” food because it is so full of water and tough to chew that you can actually burn more calories when eating it than you consume. Or so the old wives’ tale goes…In reality, celery is one of the unsung heroes in the kitchen. A long, slow simmer coaxes out its strong flavors, which we utilize for bases of stocks and soups and for adding that certain crunch to many salads.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The flesh of celeriac has a grassy sweetness similar to celery but is much milder and mellow. It easily stars in recipes like this celery root and apple soup, a perfect appetizer with its grassy, tart flavor offset by the salty, crisp taste of pancetta, or as a complement to other flavors, transforming a simple bowl of mashed potatoes with its depth. It can also be shaved thin and served raw in a coleslaw or salad.

Celeriac is in season October through May (these organic beauties were purchased from the Seward Co-op). They can be found in sizes from a baseball to a grapefruit. Choose one that is heavy for its size, as that will prove to have the most dense and tender flesh.

Celery Root and Apple Soup

adapted from Bon Appétit September 2007

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
4 cups ½ inch cubed peeled* celery root (from one 1 ¼ pound celery root)
3 cups ½ inch cubed peeled cored Granny Smith apples (from about 2 medium)
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
4 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
salt and pepper
5 ounces thinly sliced pancetta

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add celery root, apples, and onion. Cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook until apples and some of celery root are translucent (do not brown), about 10 more minutes. Add 4 cups broth. Cover and bring to simmer and cook until celery root and apples are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, adding more broth by ¼ cupfuls to thin to desired consistency. Return soup to pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange pancetta slices in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until pancetta is browned and crispy, about 18 minutes. Alternatively, pancetta can be cooked in a skillet on the stovetop. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Crumble pancetta.

Rewarm soup over medium heat. Divide soup among bowls. Sprinkle pancetta crumbles over each serving.

*A hint on peeling the celeriac is to cut the root into thick slices, lay each slice flat on the cutting board and then cut the outer lay off as if you were cutting crusts off of bread.