Recipe 9: Celeriac au Gratin

Yay! Another obscure root vegetable!

In my research I have stumbled upon several foods that were completely unknown to me. Celeriac is one of them. I decided that the next recipe I would do would be this one after I actually found celeriac at our local Ingles. Imagine that!

Celeriac is also known as celery root and is known for its knobby, tasty root that is commonly used in other parts of the world for cooking. It is not pretty.

“What in the world is that?”-Cashier at Ingles (I get this a lot when checking out my groceries)

I feel a little sad for it because no one here wants to eat it and it just sits in the produce section looking lonely. I was happy to take six of them home with me.

I was going to go with a more complicated recipe that involved multiple sauces and was not very clear before giving up and deciding that easier was better. I did not know what I was doing (do I ever?) and thought it would be best to go with a simple recipe.

I found my easy recipe in “Good Housekeeping’s” article “New Ways with Celeriac” by Helen Louise Sherwood published in Volume 46 of the magazine (January 1, 1908). In the article, the author says that celeriac is found commonly in most major city markets but it has not become popular with housewives because they are not aware of it. She predicts that once it is more well-known it will become a kitchen staple because it is healthy, tasty, and cheap. It is now 112 years later and poor celeriac is still waiting for its moment.

The recipe is as follows:

To a pint of boiled celeriac take a cup of cream sauce and half a cup of grated cheese. Butter a baking dish and fill with layers of celeriac, sauce, and cheese. Cover with crumbs and dot with butter. Bake in a hot oven.
-“Good Housekeeping” Volume 46 Page 428

The first step is to wash and cut the celeriac. This was the biggest challenge of the night. My husband did all of this (and was happy to do so because he got to use his fancy knives and cutting board). The cutting took a lot of hand strength and power, not only to peel the root but then also to cut it. It was like cutting a very thick carrot or turnip-very hard and dense.

We did not read the directions very carefully and did not realize that the celeriac was supposed to be boiled prior to assembling the components in the baking dish. However, I think this ultimately worked to our advantage later.

The next step is to start the cream sauce. I selected “Easy Cream Sauce Recipe With Variations” from The Spruce Eats but any will do. I was in charge of the sauce and VERY nervous because I had to use two pans at once on the stove. Eek!

We added dried onions to our cream sauce to give it a little extra flavor.

I worked on the cream sauce and my husband cut the cheese (hehehehe):

We did not have any shredded cheese and sliced some sharp cheddar that we had left in the fridge. I would imagine the average housewife in 1908 would have had to shred or slice her own cheese as well.

The final step is to assemble the casserole in layers. The directions specify the amount of cheese and cream sauce needed (half a cup and once cup, respectively). We did not measure anything but just eyeballed it.

I threw on lots and lots of panko breadcrumbs (leftover from another culinary disaster) and we baked the dish at 350 degrees.

And we waited…

…and waited…

and waited…

THIS TOOK FOREVER TO BAKE! Forever, in this case, was about 30 to 45 minutes. One of the reasons for this is that we neglected to boil the celeriac before we made the casserole so the celeriac took a long time to soften.

It was worth the wait!

This was delicious! It was like a cross between scalloped potatoes and macaroni and cheese with a hint of celery. The cream sauce with the onions added some savory flavor, but even without the onions this would still have been delicious. I am glad that I overdid it on the breadcrumbs because that gave the dish some extra crunch.

I have read of celeriac being used in certain types of pasta replacements and can understand how that would be the case. The texture is much firmer and less watery than regular celery, and the root can withstand long periods of cooking without becoming mushy. Our dish was firm but not soggy because we forgot to boil the celeriac before baking it, and I think that this made the dish much better. It was not watery at all (see the salsify I made that had been pre-cooked, I wonder if the celeriac would have been goopy like that had we boiled it ahead of time).

Time Travel Experience: Many of the recipes that I discovered were from the turn of the century and the amount of work involved in peeling and cutting the root made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a time when most of my cooking is not that difficult. The roots last for about 6 to 8 months when stored properly, so I can understand how this would have been good to cultivate before modern refrigeration techniques.

Overall Verdict: 10/10! An enthusiastic 10/10 from both of us! Best dish we have made yet! Yay! Since I overbought on the celeriac, we think we are going to try to make other things with it because we enjoyed this so much. This is something that we very seldom do when I buy things for my cooking experiments, so that tells you a lot.

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