Cooking in winter demands patience to soften sturdy roots into smooth mashes, patience to allow vinegar to penetrate and pickle and preserve, patience for a tough piece of meat to break down so that you can slice it — even if you don’t have a knife.
The required patience is also why I love being in my kitchen this time of year: I get to really cook. Whereas in summer I can just slice a tomato and sprinkle it with salt, maybe throw a fresh ear of corn in some hot water and call it a day, winter kitchens demand more. And responding to this demand means rolling up our sleeves and being resourceful and creative. We get to turn hearty ingredients into comforting meals, get to fog our kitchen windows with steam from our pots, and get to gather the people we love around our tables.
The five ingredients that inspire these recipes are celery root, turnips, mustard greens, citrus and chuck roast. Each ingredient lends itself to a variety of dishes, all made memorable by combining them with flavorful accents. They remind us that cooking in winter is in many ways like cooking at any other time of year: You need bursts of salt and acid — like miso paste and punchy anchovies, vinegar and briny olives — to wake things up.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be sharing recipes for each of these five ingredients, starting with one of my favorites: celery root.
I love celery root (also known as celeriac) because it has such a distinctive flavor, not unlike a parsnip, and it can be enjoyed in so many ways. But its gnarly look makes it a little intimidating. Remember: The roots come in such a variety of sizes, so it’s best to use the scale at the grocery store to make sure you are purchasing according to your needs and chosen recipe. Use a sharp knife to peel away the brown, craggy outside, and then go in any direction you want.
Enjoy the root raw: Slice it into thin matchsticks and dress it with a creamy dressing for the traditional French salad known as remoulade. I offer a version with a creamy anchovy dressing since the Caesar-like flavor complements the root so well. Or simmer pieces of celery root with sauteed onions and puree with vegetable stock and creamy coconut milk for a smooth, vegan soup. You could spice the onions with turmeric and ground coriander seed for extra flavor and color.
When it’s very cold outside, though, my favorite way to enjoy celery root is to slice it thin and layer it with grated cheese and garlicky cream and bake the layers to form a decadent gratin that could be a meal on its own alongside a salad and a bottle of wine.
Turshen is a writer, recipe developer and author of the best-selling “Small Victories” and the more recent “Feed the Resistance” (Chronicle Books, 2017). She and her family live in Upstate New York. She will join our online chat with readers on Wednesday at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
4 to 6 servings
Try this tangy, crunchy classic side instead of potatoes the next time you serve a simple roast chicken.
Recipes from cookbook author and recipe developer Julia Turshen.
4 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup crème fraîche (may substitute sour cream or mayonnaise)
Freshly ground black pepper
One 1-pound celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Finely chopped parsley or celery leaves
Use a fork to mash the anchovies into a paste in a mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt, whisking to incorporate. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil and then whisk in the crème fraîche, to form a thickened dressing. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The yield is about 1 cup.
Add the celery root and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with parsley or fresh celery leaves and serve.
4 to 6 servings (makes about 6 cups)
The flavor of celery root shines through in this ultrasmooth, rich-tasting, dairy-free soup.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced (1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
One 1-pound celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cups no-salt added vegetable broth or water
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (full- or low-fat)
Unsweetened, toasted coconut flakes, for garnish (optional)
Combine the oil and onion in a large pot over medium-low heat. Cook gently until soft and translucent; do not let the onion brown. Add the garlic and season generously with salt.
Stir in the celery root, the broth or water, the coconut milk and a teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes, until the celery root is very soft.
Puree using an immersion (stick) blender or regular blender until smooth. (If using the latter, remove the center knob of the lid and place a paper towel over the opening, to let steam escape and avoid splash-ups.) Taste and add more salt, as needed.
Serve warm, topped with the toasted coconut flakes, if desired.
4 to 6 servings
Rich with cream and cheddar, this gratin uses celery root (celeriac) instead of the traditional potato.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
One 1½ -pound celery root, peeled and cut into ⅛ -inch thick slices
1 cup coarsely grated sharp white cheddar cheese
¼ cup minced fresh chives (may substitute celery leaves or chopped fresh parsley)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use the butter to grease an 8-inch-square baking dish.
Whisk together the heavy cream, garlic, salt (to taste), pepper and nutmeg in a bowl.
Arrange a third of the celery root slices in an even layer in the baking dish. Sprinkle with a third of the cheese, a third of the chives and then evenly pour in a third of the cream mixture. Repeat the process two more times.
Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake (middle rack) for 45 minutes, or until the celery root is starting to get tender (test it with the tip of a paring knife).
Uncover and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown, the celery root is completely tender and the sauce is bubbling at the edges.
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