Roundabouts & Roots

September 29, 2011

…You got me goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
Goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
I’m strung out over you…

~Luther Vandross

It makes me sad to utter this. But, something has run amiss, almost amok here.

In an ever dumbed down America, now even the most simple ideas are often illogically, even rabidly, rejected and then find trouble gaining traction. Our populace has strayed from critical analysis, from free thought, from historical cognizance, from educational enlightenment…rejecting sound reason in favor of wicked demogoguery. Faith, and not knowledge, reigns. Most good ideas “foreign” are blindly rejected without humility as if this land remains some divinely touched insular utopia. You often hear the herd-like anger: while this may work there, it will never work here. Words voiced by a few perturbed by fear and suspicious of change, evoking little but gossip, gripes and poor judgment.

Take roundabouts—those ring intersections through which traffic flows in a counterclockwise circuit, simply yielding to those already inside. First appearing in Great Britain in the early 60’s, there are over 30,000 in France alone (an area slightly smaller than Texas) and only some 2,000 in this entire country. In study after engineering study, roundabouts have been proven to reduce harmful emissions, allow smoother traffic flow, reduce lights and signs, and decrease severe collisions. Yet in the states, whenever some communities are faced with the specter of a roundabout, irrational wrath soon becomes seething apathy, sometimes even squelching the proposal. Then, despite all engineering logic, the collective psyche insists upon the status quo of traffic signals and signs, halted traffic, enhanced CO2 emissions, and grisly wrecks. Allo?

Thankfully, roundabouts are experiencing a slight upsurge here…and where fear ebbs and they are finally constructed, public opinion invariably soars in favor of these sometimes unwelcome circles.

Knobby and gnarly, celeriac is not smoothly round, orb-like in a natural state. But, like root cousins turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes, it makes one simple yet exquisite soup.

CELERIAC SOUP

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned, peeled and chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t dried cumin, roasted and ground
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs celery root, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
6 C chicken stock

1 C heavy whipping cream

Fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

Place the butter and oil in a heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until melted. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-6 minutes. Add the cumin, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If the pot begins to brown too much on the bottom as they cook, add another pat of butter or pour of olive oil.

Add the celery root and stir to coat, then add the stock and briefly bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat so that the stock simmers gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root until soft and easily pierced with a paring knife, about 20 minutes more.

Allow to cool slightly off the heat, then purée in batches in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a sauce pan, whisk in the cream and reheat over medium low. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon.

Advertisements

Prosopography unbound. How a being so homely can morph into such a lustrous beauty. Do not be dissuaded by the cover of this root with its brownish, knotted and hairy skin, and gnarly roots.

Consider a subterranean triad of celery root, turnips and russet potatoes either simply mashed or puréed much as below—in ratios to your liking. If you opt for this, cut the celeriac and turnips in smaller cubes than the potatoes for the initial simmer. In the end, this is nothing more than root manna.

CELERIAC PUREE

4 C whole milk, warmed
3 C vegetable or chicken stock
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 T sea salt

3 large celeriac bulbs (about 3 lbs), peeled and cut into 2″ cubes

8 T butter, cut into pieces
1 t white pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

A slight drizzle of white truffle oil, to taste

Bring celeriac, milk, stock, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and salt just to a boil in heavy stock pot over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until celeriac is just fork tender, about 20-30 minutes. Drain, discarding cooking liquid, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.

Transfer celeriac to a food processor and add butter, white pepper, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and purée in bursts until very smooth. Add a gentle drizzle of truffle oil, process a little further and season to taste.

No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
~Oscar Wilde

Celeriac (Apium graveolens rapaceum), also known as celery root, turnip-root celery or knob celery is a bulbous root vegetable related to anise, carrots, parsley and parsnips.

With a scruffy, knotted, almost warty outer surface, celeriac is surely considered by fashionistas as too unsightly and rotund to dare deign a designer grocery bag. And overly soiled for those freshly manicured fingers. Once peeled though, celery root’s creamy, firm white flesh resembles that of a turnip and has a subtle woodsy blend of celery and parsley. Too often shunned outside Europe, celeriac is eaten raw, fried, sautéed, blanched, and in gratins and soups.  When buying, the full, globular root should be firm with no brown soft spots, and the sprouting tops should be bright green.

While I adore the local marchés en plein airboulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, pâtisseries, and épiceries in a classic French market to kitchen progression, charcuteries make me weak-kneed.  Derived from chair cuite which means “cooked flesh,” charcuteries display daily gastronomic divinities such as saucissons, merguez, boudin noirs, jambons, pâtés, terrines, rillettes, confits, white asparagus, haricots verts, and so on…just an affluence of salted, smoked, cured meats and poultry. Edenic.  Never to be overlooked at any charcuterie is the ever present céleri rémoulade, an earthy, crunchy salad composed of julienned celery root dressed in a mustardy mayonnaise. It may be old school, but céleri rémoulade still really grooves.

Because the peeled and julienned celeriac tends to discolor, it is best to prepare the dressing before you cut into the root.

CELERIAC REMOULADE

2 lbs celery root (celeriac)

1 C mayonnaise, homemade* or prepared
1/4 C crème fraîche or whole milk plain yogurt
1 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1/4 C capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Brush excess dirt off of the roots. Cut off the bottom and top of the roots, peel and then cut into quarters. Rinse in cool water if there is any remaining dirt or debris. Slice each quarter on a mandoline or grater into thick wooden matchsticks, so they retain their crunch once dressed. You might want to julienne by hand, with a sharp knife.

Mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and capers. Toss the julienned celery root with the dressing and season further to your liking. If the salad is too thick, then add some more crème fraîche or yogurt.

*Mayonnaise

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient, because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.