Monday, February 1, 2010

Celery Root Risotto and Pesto: Finding beauty in the beast

They are sitting between the beets and radishes at Whole Foods – large bulbous, muddied roots.

“That can’t be it.” I think. I clutch my black shopping basket closer lest the unattractive vegetable try to leap inside and steer myself toward the daintier produce in the section.

I collect some delicate shiitake mushrooms, dig through the leeks for a long, lean one, and select a pristine yellow banana for my oatmeal the next morning. Satisfied with the attractive foodstuffs in my basket, I finally attend to the pivotal ingredient for my dinner that evening.

“Excuse me, Sir? Can you tell me where I can find celery root?” I ask a man who is restocking the Gala apples.

“Sure thing.” He responds, setting down his last three apples. “They’re right over here.” He continues, walking toward the beets, toward the radishes, toward the object of my disaffection.

“That can’t be it.” I think again as he extends the offending root with his hand.

I grimace. “Oh. Err… is that a… good one?” I stammer, afraid to touch it.

He squeezes the root. “It’s firm – not soft. Should be good.”

“Right. Thank you.” I say, forcing myself to smile as I finally take the celery root from him. “I’ve never seen one before!”

He nods, and I turn away, frantically grabbing at the plastic bags to get the eyesore out of my immediate vision.

“How the heck am I going to cook this thing?”

When I get home, I ignore my impulses to dig a hole in the patch of dirt outside my apartment to put the root right back where it belongs and attend to the recipe that led me to purchase the vegetable in the first place – Bon Appétit’s celery root risotto and pesto.

With the shiitake mushrooms, shelled edamame and crispy leeks I add to the recipe, the end product is much more refined than I ever would have imagined when I first confronted the celery root at Whole Foods. The risotto is comforting and familiar with its distinct celery flavor – like a cuddly bowl of soup that can be eaten with a fork. I no longer feel any qualms about hacking up another celery root. The beastly bulbous vegetable has dug its way into my heart with this supremely satisfying winter dish.
Celery Root Risotto and Pesto
Adapted from recipe in Bon Appétit’s fast easy fresh cookbook
Makes 1 main-course serving

2/3 cup celery root, chopped into 1/3 inch cubes
½ cup shelled edamame, cooked according to package instructions
½ cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup chopped leek (white and green parts only)
¼ cup Arborio rice
3 tablespoons parmesan
1 ¼ cup chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
Olive oil

1/3 cup celery root leaves
¼ cup fresh parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
Pepper, salt to taste

To make pesto: Combine pesto ingredients in mini food processor or tall canister to mix using an immersion blender. Pulse/puree until leaves and parsley are finely minced. Set aside.

Wash celery root well. Cut off brown skin and then cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Cut sliced into 1/3-inch cubes.

Heat splash of olive oil in heavy medium-sized saucepan. Stir in celery root cubes and chopped leek. Cover; cook until celery root is tender, but not brown, stirring often (about 10 minutes). Mix in rice, stir until edges are slightly translucent (1 minute). Add a 1/3 cup of hot broth/wine, bring to a boil, and then simmer over low heat. Cover and continue adding the warm broth/wine little by little, stirring occasionally, as it is absorbed. The rice should simmer at a slow boil until it reaches a somewhat soupy, slightly stiff consistency. Just before risotto is done, uncover the pan, add the edamame, shiitake mushrooms and cook together until shiitakes are tender. Stir in two tablespoons of parmesan, reserving the rest for the top. Serve immediately. Finish with pesto, 1 tablespoon parmesan and crispy leeks.

For crispy leeks: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice leeks into long, thin strips. Toss with olive oil and bake on a cookie sheet, stirring occasionally, until crispy (approximately 10 minutes). Monitor closely so they don’t burn.


Active Foodie said...

Haha!! That's exactly how I felt the first time I went to buy jicama! I had to ask the Whold Foods guy, and when he pointed to it, I scrunched my eyebrows and asked "are you sure!?". But it's been love ever since! :) I woul love to give cooking with celery root a try, and this recipe looks great!

Anna A. said...

I dig what you're doing with this root! I so am making this when I get back home.

Gastronomer said...

Why, I don't think I've ever indulged in this fugly root. Your plate of risotto looks so good! I want your leftovers!

Esi said...

Just like Cathy, I want your leftovers too..sans shrooms of course.

yutjangsah said...

Hahaha! You wanted to reroot the bulbous fella. I think you made the right choice in peeling, chopping and cooking the heck out of him instead. yum!

Diana said...

Sonja - Haha, oh dear - I've yet to seek out jicama that hasn't already been pre-cut for me! Thanks for the warning!

Anna - It's a great vegetarian recipe - can easily use veggie broth instead of chicken broth with similar results.

Cathy - Isn't it the fugliest? I was sort of amazed of what came out of it!

Esi - Haha, you got it! Maybe in risotto cake form?

Sook - Thanks for noticing that line -- I was proud of it. ;)

The Duo Dishes said...

They are awesome in mashed potatoes. That is a fact!

Kung Food Panda said...

I love how you tell a story with each one of your reviews D!

In terms of celery root, as what Duo Dishes states, it's actually great in a puree style. I had it at Eleven Madison Park. I can see how it's quite nice in mashed potatoes!

Diana said...

Chrystal & Amir - Oh that does sound good! I'll have to try... maybe do a gourmet twice baked potato with celery root and parmesan! :) :) :)

Danny - Thanks Danny! I've had some lovely celery root purees too so wasn't surprised that this risotto turned out so delicious!