Found in abundance at winter farmer’s markets in January and February, celeriac is, in fact, not a root but rather a “hypocotyl.” That’s the name for the bulbous part of the plant that grows below the leafy stalk, but above the plant’s roots.
Adding to the confusion, celeriac and celery are basically the same plant, Apium graveolens, with celeriac being a variety cultivated for its “root” (hypocotyl, that is) rather than its stalks (var. rapaceum).
The celery cousins taste and smell similar, although celeriac has an “earthier” flavor and texture – kind of a celery-scented potato! Celeriac does, after all, grow in soil as opposed to celery stalks that grow aboveground.
Like celery, celeriac can be prepared and eaten raw – think coleslaw served with crabcakes – but it’s more versatile, able to be cooked, simmered soft and pureed into a soup, or sliced thinly and baked with cream into a luxurious gratin.
The recipe that follows is a comforting, savory rice dish similar to the Italian classic, risotto, which Nigella Lawson renames “Soupy Rice” in her characteristically cheeky way in her 2021 cookbook, Cook, Eat, Repeat.
“There is just something quiet and lovely about it that seems to still the air around you as you eat,” Lawson says.
It’s a comforting dish for wintry cold and wet, blustery Pacific Northwest days.
“Soupy Rice” with Celeriac*
Serves 4–6 as a main dish; 6–8 as a side
Celeriac, 1 large, peeled and diced ¾-inch (about 2 cups)
Leek, 1 large, white and light green part only, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
Parsley, fresh, 1 bunch
Thyme, fresh, leaves only, 1 teaspoon
Garlic, 2-3 large cloves, peeled and minced or grated (about 1 tablespoon)
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons
Butter, 3 tablespoons
Allspice, ground, ½ teaspoon
Calrose or Arborio rice, 1 cup
Cooking sherry, ¼ cup (optional)
Broth (chicken or mushroom), 6 cups
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, grated, 1 cup (optional)
- Peel the celeriac and cut into ¾-inch cubes. Cut the leek in half lengthwise and wash well to remove any dirt — leeks can be very muddy! Slice the leeks thinly, roughly chop ¼ cup of the parsley leaves, pick the thyme leaves and mince the garlic.
- In a heavy, wide saucepan with a lid, add 1 tablespoon of olive and 2 tablespoons butter. Over medium heat, melt the butter then add the sliced leeks. Cook, stirring frequently for 3-5 minutes until the leeks start to soften.
- Add the chopped parsley, thyme leaves and minced garlic and mix well for about a minute.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter; when melted, add the diced celeriac and cook, stirring frequently, for 8–10 minutes over medium heat until the celeriac starts to soften.
- Stir in the ground allspice and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high.
- Add the rice and stir until well mixed, then pour in the cooking sherry (if using). Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Put on the lid, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through to make sure the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Adjust heat as necessary.
- After 15 minutes there should still be a fair amount of liquid, but the rice should be cooked and the celeriac soft. Take a spoonful and taste to see if the rice and celeriac are done; cook for 3–5 minutes longer, if necessary. Season with salt to your liking.
- Move the pan off the heat and let stand uncovered for 10 minutes. This time allows the rice to “rest” — it will thicken slightly but should still be on the “soupy” side. While the rice is resting, chop another 1/3 cup of parsley and stir into the rice. Serve in bowls with grated cheese on top.
*Adapted from “Soupy Rice with Celery Root and Chestnuts,” Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson. © 2021, Ecco.