The first time I saw celeriac at the farmers market, I thought its presence might have been an accident maybe the farmer had mistakenly kicked a dirt clod off his truck, and that's what I was looking at. Then an old Polish woman suddenly pushed in front of me and grabbed the last of these unsightly, bulbous, knotty brown roots. She threw a couple bucks at the farmer, tucked them into her basket and waddled away.
"Celeriac," the farmer said, noticing my confusion. "Come back Wednesday and I'll have more."
I was getting the idea that these must be something special. On Wednesday, I was early at the market and wasted no time snatching two of my own. I was halfway home before I realized I had no idea how to cook them.
My Polish great-aunt had the answer: Peel it until the creamy white flesh is exposed, boil and then puree it, add a little salt, pepper and a splash of cream. When I ate my first spoonful, a new world of taste opened up; kind of sweet, kind of earthy, it was starchier than celery stalk and had a hint of parsley.
Celeriac, also known as celery root, is one of the ugliest vegetables around, and it doesn't exactly call out as would, say, a ripe red tomato in the height of summer. But its draw is that it is hearty and earthy, perfect in the coldest wintry months. It's been a popular vegetable in Europe from medieval times to the present, but is just now gaining popularity in America. Quite versatile, it is delicious as a puree in soups, as a simple alternative to mashed potatoes, or even raw.
CELERIAC IN CREAMY DRESSING
1/4 cup light olive oil
2-3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
splash of fresh cream
Peel the celeriac and cut into pieces. Rub with lemon so it keeps its creamy white color. Mix the remaining ingredients and toss with the celeriac. Let stand for 10 minutes before eating. Enjoy!