RECIPE: Gramercy Tavern’s Celeriac Purée

My CSA rocks the winer root box.
My CSA rocks the winter root box.

When the mercury dips, I don’t always make it to the market. That’s partly because I’m a winter wimp, but moreover because my CSA rocks, and not just during high harvest season. Each winter when Roxbury’s mesclun is but a memory, I get a monthly box, thirty pounds for thirty bucks. It’s all roots: carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and plenty of celery root (aka celeriac), which tastes like starchy celery and looks like a giant brain.

You can roast celeriac in chunks, simmer it in soups or shave it raw into slaw. But if you want to gild the lily, whip up this luscious purée from the Gramercy Tavern cookbook (whose apple pie once made our cover). Move over, mashed potatoes. Chef Mike serves this purée as a pillow for roast poultry, braised lamb or those justifiably famous meatballs.

Hey asparagus, take your time.

Celery Root Purée from the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Michael Anthony & Dorothy Kalins

Serves 4 to 6

Every time I make this purée, it amazes me that such a gnarly root can be transformed into something so satiny-smooth and elegant. I distinctly remember when I first saw a chef in France work his hocus-pocus on this humble vegetable; I was astounded then and I’m still astounded every time I cook it.

Here are two pointers for working with celery root: first, peel it well, and then cut it into large chunks. Peeling isn’t easy — the root is so big, hard, and round that if you go at it with a large knife, you’ll take too much of the flesh away. I’ve learned to take my time and slowly peel the root with a thin sharp knife, or just with a good peeler. Large chunks matter, because they allow the flesh to cook slowly and not to absorb too much liquid. Since you’re cooking the celery root in a combination of milk and water, the milk will throw off some odd-looking solids that only strengthen your belief that there’s no way this concoction will puree smoothly. Rest assured, these milk solids will help silken the purée. After you brown the butter and add it to the celery root in the blender, along with a drop of lemon juice and the cooking liquid, you’ll watch this elemental transformation take place.

4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
11⁄2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the celery root, milk, and 2 cups water, or as needed (the liquid should cover the celery root by an inch or so). Bring to a simmer and cook until the celery root is completely tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the solids to a blender, reserving the cooking liquid. Add 1 cup of the cooking liquid and process.

Make the brown butter. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. In a couple of minutes, it will start crackling. Listen carefully: when it stops making noise, it will begin browning. Wait for a minute more, then remove from the heat.

You’ll see lots of speckled brown particles in the butter — that is the good stuff!

Immediately pour the butter into the blender and process for a few minutes to thoroughly mix. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add a little more cooking liquid if needed to make the puree satiny-smooth.

Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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