Celery root takes hold in local restaurants

November 17, 2010 10:29:47 AM PST
While root vegetables take a more prominent role on local menus this time of year, it's usually beets and parsnips that get most of the attention.

But there's another ingredient that's popping up with frequency, and it's called celery root.

It's also called celeriac, and this knobby, misshapen vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked. It tastes like a cross between strong celery and parsley. And local chefs love it this time of year because it can be transformed from its beastly appearance into a beauty of a dish.

It looks like something from outer space. Perhaps a stray meteorite that fell to earth. Celery root may not win any beauty contests, but it shows a lot of versatility in the kitchen. At Mado in Bucktown, it's diced and marinated in sesame, garlic, paprika, chiles and cumin, plus a little fresh lemon and red wine vinegar. It absorbs those flavors well, and after it's roasted, it becomes a light antipasti course for fall.

In Lincoln Park, near the Steppenwolf Theater, Boka always takes a three-star approach to its ingredients, and in autumn, celery root plays a supporting role with sauteed whitefish.

"You can serve by itself if you want, like it's a side, a root vegetable, with maple syrup. That's why you have, you need to add something else to go with. I really love this in soup, too," said Giuseppe Tentori, the Chef of Boka.

Tentori carefully peels the gnarly root vegetable with a sharp knife then cuts it down into manageable pieces, eventually cutting it into small, thumb-sized cubes. He heats a pan with butter and olive oil, searing each side of the cubes.

"So it's very sweet, it's not that turnip-y, it's not bitter like turnip," he said.

Once the celery root is cooked through, he assembles his dish. First, a silky puree of chestnuts, topped with a few sauteed brussels sprouts and roasted beets; then the cubes of celery root, followed by the whitefish. Rather than sauce the dish, Tentori adds a luxurious black truffle foam, which accents the earthy notes beneath the simple fish. He says the celery root really serves two purposes.

"It's a very unique product because the flavor and the texture, so you can use it multiple, different things," Tentori said.

One of the greatest attributes of celery root is its versatility. It can be roasted, pureed, boiled or sauteed.. It also makes a great addition raw, thinly-sliced, in an autumn coleslaw.

Boka
1729 N. Halsted St.
312-337-6070
www.bokachicago.com

The Gage
24 S. Michigan Ave.
312-372-4243
www.thegagechicago.com.


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