On my recent visit to the Asian food market, while looking for the exotic jicama for the red cabbage and beets salad, I spotted many vegetables that I not only have never tried, but did not even know they existed. I took out a pen and wrote down all the unusual names later to find recipes for them. The list is surprisingly long--eddo, malanga, nagaimo, jokote, battata--just to name some. As those vegetables became available in an exotic food store, I will try to find good recipes for them and popularize those that I will like best.
But, in the meantime, I decided to write again about the celery root, a vegetable that can be found in all popular supermarkets, but in the United States is still considered as exotic as all the vegetables I have just named. And although I see every day people buying celery sticks, I have never spotted anyone reaching for the celery root.
Celery root is a necessary ingredient in almost all Polish soups and many salads. We share this love with the French who make many interesting dishes from that aromatic tuber, and even marinate it in vinegar.
The other day when I had a French friend over, she reminded me of celery gratin--a dish that I have heard a lot about, but never tried. I love everything that is gratinéed in a creamy and cheesy sauce, and served with a glass of red wine, the French way, so I right away assumed that it could be one of my favorite dishes. This essentially vegetarian dish is quite hearty, which makes it perfect for this cold season. It is quite similar to although a little sweeter than potato gratin. At first, I served it with baby potatoes, but later I tried it with a baguette and liked it more that way.
A green salad--especially a peppery arugula salad--will be a nice complement to it as its sharp taste will contrast with the sweetness of the celery root.
Celery Root Gratin
1 large celery root about 2 lbs,
1 1/3 cup milk,
1 egg yolk,
1/2 cup creme fresh, or heavy whipping cream,
1 cup Gruyère, Fontina, or Cheddar cheese, grated,
3 tbsp butter,
salt and white pepper.
1. Peel off the celery root, cut in quarters and slice into 1/4 inch slices.
2. Put them in a pot, add milk and butter, and cook slowly for about 20 minutes (be careful as milk has a tendency to spill if it is boiling too rapidly).
3. Preheat oven to 425 F.
4. Butter an oven-proof dish and arrange gently the slices of the cooked celery root at the bottom of it.
5. In a bowl mix together cream, egg yolk, 2/3 cup of cheese, and milk from cooking the celery root.
6. Pour the mixture over the celery root slices and cover on top with the remaining cheese.
7. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese melts and forms a gold crust.
This is an excellent stand-alone vegetarian dish, or can be served as accompaniment to white meats.