Celeriac is all over the place right now. I keep coming across it unexpectedly in the veggie aisle and getting a scare, because boy howdy is it ugly.
Lumpy, hairy, rooty, brown bulbous kinda ugly.
As in, not pretty.
But you chop off all that outside stuff and the inside is an ethereal white, smelling clean and sharp and faintly of anise.
It's what celery wishes it smelled like, if celery weren't so agressively celery-smelling.
And there's this haze of austerity, puritanical cleansing, lurking about right now, brought on by holiday excess and new year re-evaluation, that the clean and calm of celeriac seems to resonate with.
Maybe it's the white, or the crunch of crisp slices, or the subtle palate-cleansing flavor, but raw celeriac just feels like it is supremely good for you. And we'd all like to feel like we're doing good for ourselves, especially right about now, in the long, cold stretch out of winter.
This is a riff on Celeriac Remoulade, which is a French classic, and more often than not uses some combination of mayonaise and mustard in various proportions for a dressing. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall adds red onions for a little acidic bite to compliment the celeriac crunch, and I decided to quick pickle them. This mellows the sharpness and also highlights the remarkable pink color, making this dish a riot of pastels.
Hugh also makes a dressing using creme fraiche instead of mayonaise, which results in what I think is a cleaner-tasting and less sticky finish. The dressing is a gem in and of itself, and can be used on any robust salad or vegetable, or even spread on a sandwich in lieu of mayo. You can make creme fraiche remarkably easily, and it's dead useful in all kinds of things from sauces to baking.
Creme fraiche scones? Delightful! I'll be sharing those soon.
So, whatever cleanse you're on, even if it's just a mental cobweb sweep-out, take the time to apologize to your body for being such a jerk last year and treat it nicely for a while. Ease back into the real world with something light, crisp and healthy.
Then have another glass of wine.
Celeriac, Caper and Pickled Red Onion Salad.
Modified from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Guardian column.
Serves 6 to 8 as a side salad.
one head celeriac (about 300 g)
1 small red onion
50 g capers, brine-packed
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
a squeeze of lemon
Creme Fraiche Dressing
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon roasted garlic, chopped (I use the kind in a jar)
1 tablespoon grainy mustard (more if you're a super fan of mustard)
1 teaspoon sugar
fresh ground black pepper
You will also need a mandoline or vegetable peeler.
To prepare the dressing, add all of the ingredients except the oil to a food processor and process until you have a thick, well-blended mixture. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until it is incorporated and the dressing is a creamy emulsion. Store in the refrigerator until needed. Keeps for up to a week. Bring back to room temperature before using.
Prepare a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon. Cut off the rooty, fibrous, brown and lumpy skin of the celeriac. Peel the white inner flesh into very thin slices with a vegetable peeler or mandoline. As you peel, drop the slices into the lemon water. Store in the lemon water until ready to serve.
Finely slice the onion into half-moons and rinse, shake a little to dry off, and put into a bowl with the white wine vinegar. Marinate the onions in the vinegar for about 30 minutes.
When ready to serve, strain and dry the celeriac. Strain the onions. Arrange the celeriac on a large, flat plate. Scatter the onions on top.
Drizzle the dressing artistically over the celeriac and onions, then scatter the capers and thyme leaves over. Generously grind over the pepper and sprinkle with flaky salt.
Serve any extra dressing on the side.
The undressed celeriac will keep for a day or two, but once you assemble the salad it's best eaten immediately.