You could say it began a few years ago, at the moment in Internet history when I first clicked on a food blog. That was what led me to celery root after all, or even to hearing about it. Before then, I must’ve walked by it in the produce section a hundred times, unknowing, overlooking its gnarly brown exterior and bulb-like shape for more familiar things like bright orange carrots or leafy green spinach or, really, anything but it.
Yet in another way, you could say it began much earlier, when I was young, the girl who wore thick pink glasses and sported puffy bangs that were regularly permed. I played no sports, belonged to no clubs, had no real accomplishments. Looking back, truly, it seems all the signs were in place from the beginning: this girl was meant to like celery root. It was only a matter of time.
Celery root, also called celeriac or knob celery, is many things, but looking at it for the first time, only one stands out: this winter vegetable isn’t pretty to look at. In fact, if you were a little like the mean kids I grew up with, you might say something like celery root is the ugliest vegetable there ever was and, you know, nobody wants to play with it.
With all that in mind, or maybe because of all that in mind, I walked towards, not away from, the celery root at my grocery store a few weeks ago, taking two globes in my hands, holding them like brains in one of those scary movies I’d never watch. I didn’t know what made one good or bad, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the two I tucked into a plastic bag, but when I walked outside, inhaling the cold, crisp air, it was with a spring in my step.
I would be making a soup eventually; that much I knew. But those first vegetables turned out to be rotted and almost rotted, so it wasn’t until just recently that I came home, holding another, very fresh, very ready to be used, with the opportunity. [On picking good celeriac - An old San Francisco Chronicle article gives the following advice for choosing fresh ones: look for roots that are heavy for their shape and not too dry. I can’t vouch for this method personally, as, honestly, all of them looked pretty dry and felt heavy to me, but I think I’ll get better at this. Meanwhile, trusting Whole Foods worked wonders.]
If you’ve ever cut a butternut squash, you have an idea of what you’re in for working with a celery root, although, really, this will be much simpler. Get a very sharp, very heavy chef’s knife and cut off eat end of the dense, brown skin. Turn it on one of the flat ends and cut down along the sides. What you’ll find inside is a solid, white center that smells like celery and the earth and your hands deep in a spring garden.
For this soup, you’ll combine chopped chunks of celery root with chopped Granny Smith apples, onions, chicken broth and butter. These things will cook for a while, softening all the ingredients until limp and ready to be pureed. Then you’ll transfer the mixture to a blender or, preferably, pull out your handy stick blender, and mix everything thoroughly until it’s the texture you like. A little grapeseed oil mixed with chives and salt drizzled on top, and this creamy, comforting soup is every bit as soothing as cream of potato, but different, with the unmistakable flavor of celery, like an old friend, returning, as you always knew he would.
The First Food Blog: That blog I mentioned, years ago, finding and liking and, through it, learning of celeriac? It’s the well-known and highly acclaimed Orangette. Author Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, has just been released, and, the moment it arrived here, I literally sat down and opened it, without taking off my coat or settling in at all. Reading it is like falling in love with the blog all over again. You will see.
Celery Root and Apple Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2007
Here in Chicago, the weather has gone back to very, very cold, which, as you can imagine, is discouraging at the beginning of March. On the other hand, things are almost over—that’s what I keep saying. And, also, we have hot bowls of soup to cup in our hands, spooning creamy, soothing comfort from a perch on the sofa. Whether it’s cold where you are or not, this soup is what you need. I mean it.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled celery root (from one 1 1/4-pound celery root)
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled cored Granny Smith apples (from about 2 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large)
4 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
Pinch of salt
Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add celery root, apples and onion. Cook until apples and some of celery root are translucent (not brown), stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add 4 cups broth. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer covered until celery root and apples are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency (or, what I did: use a stick blender!). Return soup to pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Puree chives, grapeseed oil and pinch of salt in blender until smooth.
Divide soup among bowls. Drizzle each bowl with chive oil.
Note: This soup can be made 1 day ahead, refrigerated uncovered until cold, then covered and kept refrigerated. The chive oil can be made up to two hours ahead.