Celeriac: Ugly Root to Sexy Gratin


Photo by cosygreeneyes/FlickrCC

In this week's share: celeriac, spinach, red potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, one watermelon radish, apples, grapefruit, and onions. To try the gratin Anastatia made with her celeriac and potatoes, click here for the recipe.

Just in case you somehow missed the nationwide advertising campaign, a reminder: Valentine's Day is here. Time to break out the oysters and the chocolate and the champagne, to make romantic gestures, to buy cards and flowers, to be in love in only the most starry-eyed of ways.

I feel pretty ambivalent about this particular holiday, for reasons I've never really probed. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my knee-jerk reaction to romance in general has always been a mixture of embarrassment and suspicion.

Celeriac, also known as celery root, is a singularly unsexy vegetable.

But lately I've been softening—I mean, what's so bad about Valentine's Day? Aside, of course, from the rampant commercialism, the saccharine messaging, the subtle reinforcement of heteronormativity, and the profusion of bad chocolate and unsustainably grown roses (both almost certainly, by the way, produced or picked under conditions of modern-day slavery).

I guess when I said I feel "ambivalent" about the institution of Valentine's Day, what I really meant was that I feel extremely negative about it. Romance, though, might be something I can get behind. Letting people know they are loved seems unequivocally good. And because I think about food most of the time, preparing a beautiful meal for another person is generally how I do this. After all, food and love—not to mention food and seduction—have always been intimately intertwined. Which got me thinking: what would be my ideal romantic meal? And more importantly, could I prepare that meal with vegetables from my CSA?

A few moments of thought convinced me that, in fact, I wouldn't be able to prepare said ideal romantic meal from CSA share, so it seemed best to start with the vegetables rather than the romance. And this brings me to celeriac.

Celeriac, also known as celery root, is a singularly unsexy vegetable. It is bulbous in shape, a dirtyish cream in color, and covered with hairy little roots. It is the Hobbit of winter produce. As I turned one over in my palm, though, I thought about how, despite celeriac's unattractiveness, it is a sweet and subtle-tasting vegetable.

Celeriac is kind of like the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast": if I could get past the unattractive exterior, I would find sweetness within. This seemed very appropriate for a holiday structured around the power of romantic love. Plus, celeriac pairs well with cream, which most everyone acknowledges is a pretty sexy ingredient. So I thought I'd make a little gratin of celeriac and potatoes, because a gratin is a delicious, if predictable, way to make humble root vegetables seem fancy.

I sliced and steamed celeriac and potatoes and added cream and mustard, then topped the whole thing generously with Gruyère. As the gratin baked, I mixed a vinaigrette for a salad. Once the gratin was bubbling and brown on top, I took it out of the oven.

The gratin was lovely: the potatoes were velvety on the tongue and the celeriac added a slightly mysterious note, making the dish feel a little more sophisticated than your standard potato gratin. With a spinach salad and a glass of red wine, it made a simple but elegant meal for two. Maybe not my ideal romantic feast, but an awfully nice thing to offer someone—or yourself—at the end of the day.