Discover celery root in a produce bin and it will not be love at first sight. What, you ponder, would anyone do with these bumpy beige orbs, from which someone has removed the nice green tops?
Pull one out of the ground and you’ll be even more daunted, faced with a tangle of gnarly roots. But persevere. Chop off those tentacles with a large knife or cleaver, and then keep chopping until all the bumps and soil-choked crevices are gone. By now the thing might be half its original weight and size. Scrub it some more, then chop it up, boil it and puree it with a little cream. Then you will see why my friend C.R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds calls it “the frog prince of vegetables.” Imagine a pile of very smooth mashed potatoes with the flavors of celery and parsley and a bit of sweetness — so rich and elegant it doesn’t need butter.
Celery root is a celery plant that’s been bred not for succulent, crunchy stalks, but for its root or, more accurately, a tuberlike enlarged stem base. (Its top growth can be used to season a soup but is not tender enough for nibbling.) Other names for it include celeriac, turnip-rooted celery and knob celery. In Europe, where it is more popular and better known than stem celery, it’s often grated or julienned and used raw in a salad, absorbing the dressing like a sponge.