Well, it’s happened. I’ve reached the stage in winter where I simply can not bear all the layers I put on to keep warm throughout the day. This longing to shed my wool tights and polypro zip-ups for loose, flouncy clothing crops up every year. But this year’s feeling of bulky, confinement has arrived substantially earlier than usual, which is troublesome. There’s a lot of winter left up here in Northern Wisconsin. This past week has left me desperately rooting through my wardrobe for signs of hope. My kingdom for something gauzy and peach.
On Saturday I took my gloom into the kitchen and decided to rummage through the crisper drawer instead. I was reminded that it can get pretty bleak in there this time of year too. My hands had landed on a couple of castoffs. Two large, lumpy softball size rounds of celery root. They’ve been loitering in there far too long. One arrived in December and the other made it’s way into the drawer in early January. Both came as part of our monthly winter CSA share from Hermit Creek Farm. I keep meaning to shred them up for the crown jewel of a wintery salad, but somehow they’ve eluded me. I displayed them on the counter for inspiration. That’s when it hit me. All these confining layers and lack of sunlight. I feel just like a piece of celeriac. Bulky, pale, gnarled, and in the case of these two particular roots – dejected.
I could overcome this, I thought. It was -12ºF after all. What else did I have going on? I turned to scan my cookbook shelf. I pulled out a few dead ends before my eyes landed on Vedge – a relatively new book in my collection given to me by my friend Julie. An exciting and appropriate addition to my shelf as I reembark on vegetarianism. Written by the owners of the of the Philadelphia based restaurant of the same name, the book is filled with wildly stunning combinations. There is no doubt that Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby are passionate about their vegetable. Vedge offers up no less than four celery root recipes.
I decided on Celery Root Fritters and Rémoulade – two vastly different preparations of the same vegetable. I was intrigued. It sounds fancy, and it even looks fancy, but it was a cinch to prepare. The recipe makes an insane amount of rémoulade (a classic French mayonnaise based sauce) but I was okay with this. I put it on everything for the next three days – toast, mashed potatoes, giant white beans, I even crowned a wintery salad with it. The rémoulade was such a bright addition to my winter staples. I’d make this recipe again in a heartbeat (more celeriac please, Hermit Creek Farm!) and I wouldn’t adjust the quantities one bit.
Be warned however, that even after you free the celeriac of its knobbly exterior, you’re still left with a pretty sad looking vegetable. I was feeling dubious at best. But I forged on, encouraged by the gorgeous photos in the book. I served our fritters over a bed of wild rice (also courtesy of our Hermit Creek Farm winter share – have I mentioned how much I love my farmers?) with some simple greens. I sat down and lit the substantial pillar candle that graces our winter table for months on end. And I felt redemption. If a lumpy, dull celery root can undergo such a worthy transformation, isn’t there hope for all of us? Perhaps there’s more significance to the need for endless layers than meets the eye. Let’s hope.
Celery Root Fritters and Rémoulade
(From Landau and Jacoby’s Vedge)
2 cups peeled, grated celery root (1 pound)
(a shredder attachment on a food processor works great for this)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
2 tablespoons capers (salt brined if possible)
1 tablespoon dried dill (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
Blanch the grated celery root in a pot of salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any excess moisture as it cools. Meanwhile, combine the remaining rémoulade ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine into a chunky, but creamy mixture. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cooled celery root.
2 cups celery root, peeled and diced (1 pound)
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
Combine and roast on a sheet pan in a 300ºF oven for about 20 minutes until tender. Remove and let cool slightly. transfer mixture to a food processor and blend until it forms a chunky paste. Form into 4 or 5 balls and flatten into discs about 1 1/2 inches thick. Set the fritters onto a piece of parchment as you go.
Mix 1/4 cup chickpea flour (or substitute any other type of flour, but the chickpea adds great flavor) and 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (a favorite that I personally think no spice drawer should be without!) on a plate or shallow bowl. Dredge each fritter in the flour mixture and return to the parchment.
Heat 1/4 cup peanut or canola oil in a frying pan over high heat until the oil starts to ripple. Carefully place the fritters in the oil and brown each side for about 2 minutes. Once the fritters are golden brown, gently remove to a paper towel.
Serve immediately with a generous spoonful of rémoulade atop each fritter. Lovely over a bed of wild rice.