Celery Root is Delicious!

When I write about vintage vegetable recipes, they often come from childhood memories.  My mother, however, never cooked celeriac.  If Daddy had grown celery in the garden, or if my grandfather had grown it in his garden, Mama would have cooked it, but they didn’t care about celery!  Celery at our house was something used for seasoning.  It showed up on the table for holiday meals and was always stuffed with Kraft Pineapple Cheese from that cute little jar!

Actually, celery root comes from a little different variety of celery that might have been commonly grown in home gardens.  I had never cooked celery root until I was experimenting with a totally white soup recipe for a dinner party I was hosting.  I bought my first one then, but I search for them now.  I love celery stalks and I love celery root.

We know that celery is native to the Mediterranean region and to the Middle East.  It is one of the first vegetables to appear in recorded history.  Confucius wrote about it in China in 500 B.C.   Ancient Egyptians used the plant for its seeds, but they also ate the stalks and leaves.  Ancient Greeks used celery for medicine.  Celery is known as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and has antiviral components.  We should eat more celery, but it is not a popular vegetable.  I’ll write a column about celery stalks later.  Today, I’m focusing on the big ugly root!

The root is full of starch and can easily be substituted for potatoes in many recipes.  It adds a little different flavor to mashed potatoes, but the children will never notice!  It is fantastic in soups, added to slaw or added to green salad ingredients.  If somebody offered me a basketful of the ugly root bulbs, I’d gladly take them!  They store well in a cool dry place and can be kept through cool winter months.  Just look at them frequently and make sure the stems don’t start shooting from the tops because they will rot if they get wet and will cause the bulb to rot, too.

In most of my 1950s cookbooks, celeriac recipes are simple.  You peel it, cube it and simmer it in water until it is done.  It is served with salt, pepper and a little butter.  I love it that way, but there are other ways to use it and dress it up a little!  You can use celeriac the same ways you would use a potato.  Boil it with potatoes for mashed potatoes.  Cube it for soups.  Slice it and add to escalloped or au’gratin potatoes.  Use it like you would use cabbage.  Shredded or julienned celery root added to slaw is delicious.  Add it to braised cabbage or sweet and sour cabbage recipes.  It adds a slightly nutty flavor to what is already delicious. 

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes using celery root.  For this batch of au’gratin potatoes with celery root, I simmer the vegetables before I prepare the casserole.  

Slice 4 big potatoes and the celery root.  Simmer the celeriac about ten minutes, then add the potatoes for another ten minutes. Drain and place the vegetables in a casserole dish.  I like to add just a little salt, but I used pepper that has lemon and orange in it.  I like the citrus notes with celeriac.

I make a cheese sauce stovetop and add it to the casserole.   Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter with 1 Tablespoon of bacon grease.  Add 2 Tablespoons of flour and make a roux.  Add 2 cups of milk and let it heat gently until it begins to bubble.  Any kind of cheese works, but a combination of Swiss and Gruyere is fantastic.  Add 2 cups of shredded cheese.  Let everything melt and whisk it so it is smooth.  Pour the sauce over the casserole.  Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. 

If you have too much sauce, refrigerate it and use it later.  It would be wonderful over scrambled eggs or an omelet. 

This column is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetables project!  If you’d like to see similar posts, just click the menu tab.  I’ll be sharing this with a few blog parties, so make sure you check the listings on my sidebar and click through.

Stay in and stay safe.

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