Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Toledo Talks -- Celery Root: Ugly but Beautiful

I remember watching Mama cook celery root when I was five or six. I remember being scared of the ugly thing she plopped down on the counter -- all rough and misshapen. I said "I'm not gonna eat that, Mama."

Hanover was there and he said, "Me and Swampy play catch with those things."

Mama said, as I imagine most Mamas do, "You'll eat what I put on the table and you'll like it."

Celery root
I ate it, of course. Mama had a way of making sure I ate my vegetables and it usually involved some fresh-baked pie or cobbler cooking in the oven, filling the room with a fragrant promise for later, after I'd managed to choke down this awful looking monster of a vegetable.

As I grew older, celery root became just part of the meal. Something we ate from time to time, especially when Mama was stressed or if I had an important test in school the next day. I came to enjoy its sweet, spicy flavor and would even sometimes ask Mama to make it.

Sliced celery root
Hanover even likes it, especially when it is cooked up with carrots, onion, beef, and tomato. It turns out he had always liked it and he was just giving Mama trouble. Sure, he and Swampy tossed around the root. Swampy had cultivated some he'd found. Late each autumn, he'd convince Hanover to help him dig it up and toss it in the cellar. Through the winter, Swampy would use the root himself and sell it to the chefs around town. It turns out, some consider it something of a delicacy. They call it celeriac.


Celery root with carrots and onions
I didn't fully appreciate celery root until much later, after Mama had passed on to a life without me. Of course she'd told me of its health benefits -- she knew even before the scientists did -- that it was good for the digestive system and helped calm stressed out teenagers. She knew it helped people to be mentally alert and she'd often take a raw chunk of it along on deliveries if she suspected the labor would be a long and difficult one. But like most kids, I never paid much mind.

Hanover's Favorite
Then one day, I remembered. Hanover was distraught about a case he was working on. He was particularly bothered about how the victims were murdered. I wanted to cook him up something special to help him relax. So I sautéed up some celery root, carrots, and onions. I put a nice small roast on top, along with sliced tomato and let them cook until they were rare -- just the way Hanover likes them. Then I melted a little Parmesan cheese on top. I served it to Hanover along with some red wine.
I'm not saying it worked magic. I've sworn never to work magic on Hanover. But it did help him relax. The next morning, Hanover woke early and reexamined the evidence. He saw something he'd never noticed before -- a pattern he'd never seen. I like to think the celery root had something to do with it.

Do you want to know more about celery root? Here are some links:
Health Benefits of Celery Root
What to Cook Now: Celery Root
What is Celeriac?

I'd like to give a special thanks to Paul's Farm Fresh Produce Market for the organic vegetables and grass-fed beef used in the photo shoot. It was all delicious.