Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Root of all Celery, plus Tome des Recollets

What a fantastic creature is the celery root. Look at it. It's like a great hairy monster of a vegetable, with the creeping thickness of banyan tree roots at Angkor Wat, or the tangled lianas of amate roots like the ones at the Hacienda de Cortes in Cuernavaca.

I love the flavor, too. Celery itself always seems slightly pedestrian -- we often replace it with leeks in recipes for stock or soup. But celeriac has the impact of celery flavor with none of the wateriness or stringy texture.

We were looking for a nice side for pork chops with merlot sauce for a recent dinner party and pureed celeriac sounded perfect. Simple, but incredibly tasty, this recipe is adapted from Gourmet Magazine.

Celeriac and Gala Apple Puree

4 lb celeriac
4 (1.5 lb) Gala apples
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 medium leek, light green and white parts cleaned, and sliced into thin half circles.
2 Tbsp. butter

Peel the root carefully (best to cut it on one side so you have a flat surface to put on the board and then cut down the sides from there), then cut it into 1-inch cubes. Peel and core the apples, then cut those into 1-inch pieces also.

Melt 1/2 stick butter in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, then add celeriac, apples, and salt and stir to coat with butter. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook (without adding liquid), stirring occasionally, until celery root is tender, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

In the mean time, on the side, melt the remaining butter in a medium pan over a medium-low heat and add the leeks. Cover and cook until leeks are soft and almost "melted."

Purée the celeriac mixture in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth. Return the purée to a medium heat and stir in the cream, white pepper, and nutmeg. Reheat the celeriac covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 5 minutes. Serve topped with melted leeks.

For our dinner party we also needed a cheese plate, of course, so we fought our way down to the Ferry Building, battling the fearsome Shelob on the way.

I didn't know that spiders cached cheese, but apparently Shelob's been stocking her lair.

On the Cowgirls' recommendation, we were searching for a Tome de Bordeaux, but there was unfortunately none to be had. Instead, we managed to snag the last wedge of a lovely, elegant little Tome des Recollets (center), a nicely balanced semi-soft goat and cow cheese blanketed in herbs and spices. I hadn't had this one before, but it's not unlike a softer, more buttery and less tangy version of the Tome de Bordeaux.

On the left, a slice of Brie de Meaux, my favorite sort of brie, but almost impossible to get in any acceptable sort of state in America because of the import regulations on raw milk cheese. Don't get me started.

By the time we got it warmed up to goopiness, it was already giving off a slight air of ammonia. Will I never learn? Probably not. I'm such an eternal optimist when it comes to raw milk cheese.

"Maybe this will be the magic Vacherin!"

My Omnivore gives me The Look. "You know the law."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. *Sniff.*

Also pictured to the right is a perfectly lovely half of Mt. Tam from the Cowgirls.

(US Customs and Border Protection officials, please skip the rest of this post.)

As a side note, I've recently received a shipment of fabulous corn varieties from my friend Teri in Peru! They're totally gorgeous, fabulous colors and some of the grains are enormous!

I'd like to experiment with cooking it and try making nixtamal (Sort of pre-treated corn for masa dough) but I can't find slaked lime anywhere!

Can you help me? Does anyone out there know where I can get slaked lime or chuna paste in the Bay Area?

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