When most fruit is out of season, what tends to attract me at the farmers’ market are the strange and gnarly vegetables that I was never exposed to in my youth. (Although that was partly due to my parents not being particularly adventurous eaters, I take most of the blame, in that I was an exceptionally picky eater as a kid and am just getting over that now.) I’d had my eye on the twisted, knobby bulbs of celery root (or celeriac) for several weeks, just wondering how to turn what looked like a tough and impenetrable mutant turnip into something edible, even delicious.
Like turnips, radishes, beets, and onions, celery root is essentially a swollen root that stores relatively little starch, which accounts for its surprisingly soft and spongy texture. It comes from a particular variety of celery and shares much the same taste, though it tends to be a bit more delicate in flavor, I think. Lacking the characteristic (and somewhat unpleasant) stringiness of celery, it is often pureed or otherwise transformed into a trendier version of a mashed potato.
I decided to take a different approach with my celeriac, following a recipe I’d found in The Silver Spoon, the English translation of the legendary Italian cookbook. We bought the cookbook soon after it came out in the U.S., only to be paralyzed by the sheer number of recipes (over 2000 according to the cover). And because they are presented with no commentary and very few pictures, I’ve found it hard to know what to make, so much so that I admit I this is my first dish from it. Does anyone have any recommendations as far as favorites from the Silver Spoon?
The recipe for sedano fritto, or fried celery root, was as simple as can be, though not without its problems. As usual, I tried to skimp on butter and oil (my fear of frying rearing its head), but to get the battered disks of celery root to brown, you really need the fat. The larger issue, though, was that while the smaller disks (which had come from the ends of the intact celery root) were lovely and tender, the larger disks, which had been in the center of the celery root and hence largely unexposed to the boiling water were still pretty tough. Were I more of an experimental chef, I might cut the raw celery root into disks, then boil them, and then batter and fry them to ensure that all of them are cooked through evenly. Not that there’s anything dangerous or bad about eating raw celeriac, but for this dish, softer is better. But as far as flavor, the lovely mild celery flavor and the delicate buttery crunch were delightful and worth the minimal effort involved.
Sedano Fritto or fried celery root (serves 4)
1 large celery root, peeled
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1. Cook the celery root in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain and let cool slightly.
2. Beat the egg with a pinch of salt in a shallow dish and spread the bread crumbs out in another shallow dish.
3. Cut the boiled celery root into 1/4 inch slices and dip them first in the beaten egg and then in the bread crumbs.
4. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet, add the celery root slices, and fry until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spatula and drain on paper towels, the sprinkle with a little salt and serve.