There's one fall vegetable in the produce section that's definitely been hit by the ugly stick: celery root, also called celeriac (seh-LER-ee-ak).
For years I scooted passed that gnarly looking, green-spiked, scraggly rooted vegetable not really knowing for what it was good or how to prepare one.
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Then I learned Paula Dean, TV's Queen of Cream and Butter, had taken-on celeriac, infusing its delicate flavor into mashed potatoes to create a dish "to die fo'." If Dean could kiss this frog and turn it into a prince, I figured I should give it a try.
I plunked a newly purchased celeriac on my cutting board; not sure where to begin, or even what I would make from it. Starting at the top, my chef's knife easily cut off the green spikes right where the bulb begins and tasted one; fibrous, but a big celery flavor, deeper than regular celery.
For those who favor Bloody Marys, those hollow spikes could, once washed and dried, can be used both as a garnish and a natural straw.
Peeled celery root is often grated and added to or made into a slaw-like salad, so I figured it may be possible to remove the exterior with a sharp vegetable peeler; just what I had available. Using the attached roots as a handle my vegetable peeler easily cleaned-up the bulb.
Finally, I cut the off the roots, cutting slightly into the bulb to trim them cleanly off. My peeler quickly cleaned that end up, too. Since I'd also learned that peeled celeriac browns quickly when exposed to air -- just like an apple -- I dunked my celeriac in a bowl of cold water.
With the celeriac cleaned, I still had to figure out how to cook it. I spied a few organic red potatoes, some fresh carrots, half an onion and peeled garlic cloves in my kitchen and started thinking about oven-roasting. Oven-roasting adds tasty flavor notes, especially the browning (caramelization). That would be the way I'd go. However, I had not seen any recipes for oven-roasting celeriac and began working without a net. I whisked together some olive oil, salt, fresh-ground black pepper and smoked paprika in a large mixing bowl. To the bowl I added 1-inch chunks of celeriac, potato, and carrot, whole garlic cloves big onion wedges. Stirring and tossing with a large rubber spatula got everything coated.
A foiled-lined jellyroll pan (for easy cleanup) transported my evenly distributed vegetables into a hot, 425-degree oven. It didn't take long for mouthwatering aromas to fill my kitchen. After 20 minutes I carefully removed the pan, turned all the vegetables over and returned it for another 15 minutes. I couldn't wait to see how my celeriac tasted.
Once cooled slightly, I plucked a chunk of celeriac from my plate. What surprised with that first bite was how mildly flavored it was; not nearly as strong as I expected. It also carried some very subtle hints of celeriac's anise and parsnip relatives. In combination with the rest of the vegetables, my celeriac experiment turned out sensational.
If you're willing to tackle celery root, give my new recipe a try. Also, consider doing a quick search for mashed potatoes with celery root for a new twist at Thanksgiving; you won't be disappointed.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at email@example.com.