INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH - Celeriac
Celeriac was commonly used by the Romans and ancient Greeks as a medicine and as food, and it was even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey in 800BC. It was introduced into England in the mid-18th century from Egypt, where it was once a very popular vegetable. A traveller to Syria in the 16th century reported that celeriac was considered a delicacy.
It is also known as ‘celery root’, though this is a bit of a misnomer since, like the swede, we are actually eating the swollen stem-base. It is a slow-growing plant that matures in autumn and winter. Along with celery and celery leaf, celeriac is one of the three forms that the vegetable Apium gravelons takes.
Buying & storing
Look out for firm, heavy specimens. Although it presents a challenge to break into, it is well worth it. It’ll last for up to 3 weeks whole in the fridge, or 2 weeks peeled and cut up and stored in a plastic bag. Top and tail it with a knife, then peel with a potato peeler and place it in some acidulated water to prevent discolouration.
Its sweet and nutty, celery-ish flavour comes through when it’s raw and cooked. Try it raw, sliced into long ribbons and tossed in a creamy mustard dressing in the classic remoulade or cut into matchsticks and added to a raw vegetable coleslaw. Or treat like a potato or parsnip and cut into chunks and throw into meat or vegetable stews. It is also great mashed or roasted, especially when combined with other root veg.
WHAT'S GOOD AT THE MOMENT?
Autumn's harvest is one of the highlights of the foodie calendar, so embrace it!
How many recipes can you think of that start with frying onion and its cousin, garlic? Soups, stews, curries, sauces – the list goes on and on. We don’t eat it to fill us up; its role is aromatic. For the science-minded among you, the distinctive taste and odour come from a compound called cysteine sulfoxide. Another compound, allyl sulphide, is released when we cut into onions, bringing tears to our eyes. Onion’s flavour varies from crunchy pungency when raw, to soft and meltingly sweet when cooked slowly over a low heat. You can buy onions all year round, but the maincrop is harvested this month.
Don’t be put off by the rough exterior – this root resembles a knobbly old branch, but inside is clean white flesh that adds fiery heat to anything it touches. The root is innocent enough intact but once grated, an enzyme breaks down and mustard oil is released, which irritates your eyes and makes your nose run. Act quickly by combining it with vinegar, a little crème fraîche and salt and pepper. Roast beef springs to mind, but it’s great with beetroot and oily fish, too. Paradoxically, it loses its heat when cooked, so is best used raw as a condiment.