Saturday, January 28, 2012
Ugly is as ugly does
The other night I transformed something gnarly and funky -- a celery root (aka, celeriac) -- into something sublimely beautiful and divine -- creamy celery root skordalia. That's what I love most about cooking.
This was no great exercise in culinary genius on my part. I found the recipe in Food & Wine's "Annual Cookbook: An Entire Year of Recipes 2011." (Note to self: You do not need to rip out every singe page out of the magazine each month. Just buy the dang book at the end of year. Knucklehead.)
I love skordalia -- a Greek concoction involving about three boatloads of garlic whipped into potatoes (the way I was introduced to it) and finished off with a little olive oil and lemon juice. Heaven. On the other hand, I've tap-danced around celery root, sometimes grating a little into salads, but cooking it seemed a little off the charts.
For one thing, I'm lazy as all get-out and peeling the little bugger looked like it could be some work.
But I'd been doing some reading about celery root. It's lower in calories and higher in nutrients than potatoes, good source of fiber (god knows, we all could use that, right?) and delicately flavorful (it's not called celery root for nothin', people).
Celery root -- a veritable high-nutrition hand grenade. And I mean that in a good way.
So I set to work on this:
Creamy Celery Root Skordalia
(From Food & Wine magazine)
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
3/4 lb celery root
2 T sliced blanched almonds
3 T fresh lemon juice
Preheat over to 350 degrees. In small saucepan, cover the garlic cloves with the olive oil and bring to simmer. Simmer over low heat until the garlic cloves are tender when pierced with a knife, about 12 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, peel the celery root (Note: It's more like slicing.) and cut into 1-inch cubes. In a saucepan, cover the celery root with water and bring to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and simmer over moderate heat until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain the celery root and spread it out on a work surface or baking sheet. Let dry for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spread the blanched almonds in a pie plate and toast in the over for about 7 minutes, stirring halfway through, until golden. (Note: You can also do this in skillet on your stovetop. Keep an eye on them though!)
Let almonds cool completely. (You COULD do this ahead of time, you know.)
Transfer the cooled celery root to a food processor. Add the cooked garlic (reserving the oil), then add the toasted almonds and fresh lemon juice and puree until the mixture is smooth. With the food processor running, gradually pour the the garlic-infused olive oil. Season with salt, stir in 1/4 cup water (or less depending on your preference) to thin and serve right away. (Note: Skordalia can be served warm as a side dish or at room temperature as a dip/spread.)
The verdict: I. will. never. eat. mashed. potatoes. again. in. my. life. Just creamy celery root skordalia.
Well, actually I probably will eat mashed potatoes again. I was just saying that for effect. But the honest to god truth is that this recipe is truly transformational. Excellent with fish or chicken, it's very light yet rich with a wonderful finish of lemony garlic and just the slightest hint of celery. Because I don't have the most ferocious food processor in the world, there were little flecks of almond left in skordalia -- a touch the Wonderfully Patient Spouse particularly enjoyed.
Let a little gnarliness into your life. Make celery root your new best friend.
I don't think you'll regret it.