Celeriac (suh-LAIR-ee-yak) is an unattractive little root that's of limited popularity in the United States, but don't be deceived by appearances: it'll make you the best bowl of soup you've had in a very, very long time.
Round and often sold with a mass of medusa-like shoots on one end where the stems have been trimmed, it has skin similar to that of jicama, which must be peeled before eating. Also known as celery root, although it's actually only a cousin to celery, celeriac has an intense, celery flavor and a texture that's similar to that of a parsnip. It's a popular vegetable in France and throughout Europe, where it's served hot or cold and makes a tasty salad when julienned. The root is low in calories (about 40 a cup) and has measurable amounts of Vitamin C, potassium, calcium and protein.
Celeriac's season runs from October to April, though you may find it year-round at some of our local markets, including Larry's Market, Metropolitan Market and PCC. Look for ones that are the size of a large apple or slightly bigger, without soft spots and with a fairly even exterior. They may not be pretty when you see them in the bin, but celery root is literally divine when properly prepared, as in this easy but superb soup.
2 lb. celery roots (about 3), top and bottom cut off and skin peeled
1 lb. medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 cup half and half
6 cups water
salt and white pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3/4 cup white wine
1 Bartlett pear, cored and cut into 16 slices.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
8 slices of baguette, each 1/4-inch thick
3-4 sprigs of thyme
1 clove of garlic, smashed
Cut each celery root into 8 pieces and each potato into 4 pieces. Put water and half and half in a large saucepan with celery roots, potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered, for approximately 35-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, put butter, olive oil and shallot in sauté pan. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, for approximately 2 minutes. Add wine to pan and simmer 5 minutes.
Add wine mixture to soup and stir. Blend in batches, using a blender or food processor, until very creamy, at least 3-4 minutes.
Return to saucepan, add salt and white pepper to taste, and reheat.Place olive oil 1/4 inch deep in a frying pan. Add thyme and smashed garlic and cook on medium heat until garlic is light brown. Remove garlic and thyme from pan and lay bread slices in a single layer. Cook for about 3 minutes per side.
Put oil and butter in a sauté pan on medium heat. When butter melts, add pears to pan. Gently stir to coat and cook for about 10 minutes, until pears are soft.
Ladle soup into bowls; top each with two slices of pear and place bread slice on inside edge of bowl.