There it sat. Bigger than my fist. Brown as the dirt it grew in. Sprouting a liberal coat of rootlets and weird hairy things. Looking like, in short, something one would probably have to be mad in order to consider putting in one's mouth.
But I had read that this thing, this "celery root" (a misnomer: it's not the same sort of celery plant that is generally seen either minced into mirepoix or presented in crunchy bugs-on-a-log form, and it is more properly referred to as "celeriac"), was an exceptionally tasty sort of ingredient for a soup. And so soup it would become.
First lesson: Do not try to peel a celery root with a vegetable peeler. A small, sharp paring knife will suit you much better. Pare the knobbly skin away in long strokes from top to bottom. Then you can go back with a vegetable peeler to take care of any recalcitrant brownish bits.
Second lesson: Remember my much-maligned fine-mesh strainer? I didn't use it for this soup, and the only less-than-wonderful thing about the end result was the tiny fibrous pieces that were unpleasant (and sort of impossible) to chew and which we ended up spitting out. Do yourself a favor and either chop the celery root into itty-bitty 1/8" pieces to foil the fibers, or just strain the puree before returning it to the pot and adding it to the milk.
Third lesson: There is a reason that celery root has a reputation as a fine thing to put into a soup. This soup was DELICIOUS. Seriously. And velvety. And sophisticated-tasting. Jim said "If I got this soup at a nice restaurant, I'd be very happy about it." We each had two bowlfuls and smiled the while. (The boys didn't get any. They're at Camp Namanu this weekend, poor creatures.)
And now, the recipe:
Celery Root Soup with Point Reyes Blue Cheese
Based on a soup in Lydie Williams' Soup of the Day (an excellent cookbook!)
Serves probably four, but you might as well make more, 'cause it'll disappear.
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium-to-large onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 small-to-medium leek (white and light green parts only), peeled (just kidding), rinsed well and finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 celery root (about 3/4 lb), scrubbed, peeled and cut into roughly 3/4" cubes
Salt and pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 cup milk or cream
About 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
3 ounces (or thereabouts) crumbled Point Reyes Original Blue, Stilton or other assertive blue-veined cheese
Heat butter and olive oil in a soup pot over low heat. Add onion, carrot and leek; cook, stirring, until glazed. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt; stir a little more. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure vegetables don't color or burn.
Uncover, increase heat to medium, and add celery root. Sprinkle with pepper and a little more salt; stir just until glazed. Add broth and thyme; bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until celery root is very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Fish out thyme and discard. Let soup cool briefly, then puree in batches in a blender (best) or food processor (OK) or food mill (awesome old-school style). If using a blender or food processor, which you probably are, proceed to strain the soup through a fine- or medium-fine mesh strainer to remove aforementioned unpleasant fibrous bits. Return puree to pot; set over medium-low heat.
Stir in milk or cream and parsley. Heat through to a simmer, but do not boil.
Serve with crumbled blue cheese (or Stilton, or whatever) over each serving. The cheese will partially melt into the soup and give the most achingly lovely flavor.
Image by Flickr user ianqui. Used under a Creative Commons license.