Editor’s Note: Each month, Adam Erace picks a crop that’s in season locally rightthisveryminute and asks some of the city’s best chefs how they’re preparing it.
At Fork in Old City, chef Eli Kulp does a dish called The Roots, a composition of cooked and raw veggies with a clever name and camera-ready looks. Beige is beautiful here, with formerly dirt-caked cousins polished like precious stones so that their tones of ivory, eggshell, buttermilk and brown glitter and glow. Carrots and sweet potatoes rivet the eye with bursts of orange, like colored pillows in a white-on-white Miami hotel room.
Start eating and you can pick out the Jerusalem artichokes, the turnips, the slice of fresh pear — but off to the side, spread around the inside of the bowl like icing, is a puree whose beguiling flavor evades easy identification: faintly sweet like a parsnip, but earthy like a sunchoke. I eat for a living and couldn’t pinpoint the flavor the first time I ordered this excellent salad. It was like I was doing the blindfolded ingredient challenge on Top Chef .
“Celery root,” the bartender told me, and the a-ha lightbulb went off. Of course it was celery root, an elusive vegetable that’s like the friend of a friend whose name we never remember.
And how can we? Apium graveolens var. rapaceum goes by many calling cards: Its more common name, celeriac, sounds less like a vegetable and more like a communicable disease (“Celeriac Outbreak in Uganda!”). It’s also known as knob celery, turnip-root celery and, my preference, celery root. I like that last one even if it’s something of a misnomer; this gnarled, hairy bulb is the root of bitter cutting celery, not the celery typically found alongside Buffalo wings, and is cultivated exclusively for its enlarged hyptoctyl, or underground stem.
“I like celery root because it’s not as delicate as celery, but can still be classy with the right care,” says Stateside’s George Sabatino, who is adding a ginger-and-orange-glazed celery-root-and-turnip dish to his winter menu, garnished with grated beet and rosemary-coconut froth.
At Supper, “We peel the bulbs and use them raw dressed with remoulade sauce, puree them cooked into soups and sauces, as well as add [it] to potato puree,” says chef/owner Mitch Prensky. “They are also toasty roasted in a hot oven and dressed with crushed olives and chile breadcrumbs.”
At Fork, Kulp blends almonds into The Roots’ cel-ery-root puree “because the flavors go great toge-ther.” Some are also roasted and added to the salad. “Nothing really groundbreaking,” he says. Maybe not, but a flavor this captivating and complex needs little improvement. Only a proper introduction.
:Head on over to citypaper.net/mealticket for celery-root related recipes .