The appearance of root vegetables, such as parsnip, carrots and celeriac, heralds the beginning of a period of comforting winter food. What better way to celebrate the arrival of the colder months than potato and celeriac mash, a good roast roots soup or some celeriac chips? The best way of making celeriac chips, by the way, is to peel the root and boil it whole for five minutes. Then, having let it cool, it can be cut into chips and oven roasted or deep fried.
Celeriac, with its tangled and octopus-like roots, has only really caught on in the UK recently, while over on the Continent it has long been a popular winter food. Perhaps this is because of their peculiar, and some would say ugly, appearance or perhaps because they require a little bit of work to prepare.
In Holland, celery in all its forms is incredibly popular and celery stalks (a misnomer, as they are actually petioles, or part of the leaves), the root and the green leaves are used in plenty of winter dishes. A particular favourite at home is Koninginnen soep, or queen?s soup, which is a simple affair of sweated onions and carrots (for orange, the Dutch national colour), bound with a little flour. Add good strong stock and liquidise the whole lot.
Chop masses of celery leaves into it ? a delicious and delicately flavoured soup for a winter lunch. Equally the beautiful and delicious quail?s egg, boiled for a minute and then served slightly warm, would not be the same without a little bowl of celery salt. This seasoning is made up of celery seeds ground together with salt.
Celery has been around for years, and is mentioned in Homer?s Iliad and Odyssey, but strangely enough was not really introduced in Britain until the 17th century, when it was a novelty imported from Italy. Celeriac was introduced even later ? not until 1720 did the German garden designer and seedsman Stephen Switzer import seeds to Europe from Alexandria.
John Evelyn writes of sellery, as it was then known, in his work on salads (Acetaria, 1699), where he explains why it is prized: and for its high and grateful Taste, is ever plac?d in the middle of the Grand Sallet, at our Great Mens Tables and Praetors Feasts, as the Grace of the whole Board.
While it may have been considered worthy of the top tables in John Evelyn?s time, by the 20th century and Doctor Vogel?s day, the three forms of celery (stalks, root and leaves) were renowned for their healthy attributes. We all know that a Bloody Mary, that most restorative of drinks, would not be complete without a stick of celery, so it must be good for something. It was a good preventative for gout, rheumatism, kidney stones and particularly colds, thanks to its high calcium content. There is no great mystery behind our reasons for craving the root vegetables in winter: kohlrabi, white turnips, swedes, parsnips and celeriac are all excellent cold cures and preventatives.
Dr Vogel doesn?t stop there with his praise for the humble celery family ? it is highly recommended to help you lose weight and to rejuvenate elderly people. A glass of celery or carrot juice is supposed to be an excellent purgative and slimming aid. There is a wonderful myth that you use up more calories digesting celery than the vegetable contains, but as it contains so few calories, perhaps that shouldn?t be taken as a licence to indulge in other ways! There is one warning, however.
If you have an excessive libido, avoid celery, along with eggs and oysters. And take cold showers. I may have to reconsider whether celery is a comfort food.
Celeriac and potato mash
Ingredients: ? celeriac ? potatoes ? butter ? milk ? salt and pepper
1.Peel the celeriac and potatoes and cook separately in boiling water. When cooked, drain and mash the celeriac and potatoes and beat the two together. Add plenty of butter and some milk, and season to taste.
Serve with smoked duck or any other smoked game, adding melba toast for a crunch. The lukewarm water in the mayonnaise stabilises the process and makes it less likely to curdle.
Ingredients: ? an egg yolk ? lemon ? mustard ? olive oil ? sunflower oil ? truffle oil (optional) ? yoghurt or crème fraiche ? salt and pepper ? celeriac
1. Beat the egg yolk with a teaspoon of lukewarm water, a little lemon juice and mustard. Slowly beat in the olive oil and sunflower oil. Add a few drops of truffle oil and a spoon of yoghurt or crème fraiche. Season and taste, adding, as necessary, more truffle oil, lemon, yoghurt or seasoning.
2. Peel the celeriac and, if you have one, use a mandolin to slice it. If not, cut into match-stick sized pieces. Mix with the mayonnaise and serve.