It’s risotto week at GK HQ (see Matthew’s master recent recipe for “leftovers risotto” and mine for a fregola version). To continue with the theme this time it’s a family-friendly, time-sensitive, and budget-sensitive approximation of a risotto, with a a non-traditional starch and a seasonal vegetable of questionable aesthetics: Celery Root, the big, dirty, knotty, bulbous root vegetable that looks like, well, a big, dirty, bulbous, knotty soft ball with dark green celery growing out of the top of it. And it’s in season! (at least in 80 degree southern california where spring seems to come in february; sorry freezing folks elsewhere in the country, you might have to wait a 60 more days or so. Or buy some imported stuff, tho you know we frown on such carbon insensitive frippery). Celery root is also known as celeriac, and this vegetable is celery intensified: it’s herbaceous, sweet, and just starchy enough. Like jicama with a personality, or potatoes crossed with cilantro and parsley. Trim the rough and dirty skin off and slice and use as you would potatoes or parsnips—in a gratin, in a hash, or in a risotto.
A good friend of mine recently boasted of and let me try a celery root and leek risotto she’d made, and I was hooked not only by the taste of it but also on the idea of something so simple and honestly expressive of the season. And so cheap. Except I didn’t have time for the usual hyper attentive risotto making/stirring/ is the rice right? gig. So I came up with this version, made with Israeli couscous. Budget bonus: I bought my celery root for $1.50 at my farmer’s market. A small price to pay for incredible flavor. Add to that 4 dollars or so of pasta and other ingredients and you’ve got a great side or main for not a lot of money (we got dinner, plus a side dish the next night out of this one).
While you can use Matthew’s risotto strategy below, Israeli couscous, a BB-sized pasta that’s rice-like or orzo-like, is the major cheat here: it’s easier to cook than rice and doesn’t require the quasi-constant stirring of risotto (tho of course it doesn’t achieve the incredible unctuousness of risottto, it’s darned good in its own way). Just apply pasta logic: tons of salted boiling water. Remove/strain the couscous when its al dente. Since the couscous is basically a pasta it can be tasted as it cooks without fear of interrupting the cooking cycle. But its small size requires a fine mesh strainer instead of a colander. Just as we use a spider strainer to remove standard pasta to put it in a heated pan of sauce, we use a fine mesh strainer to remove the couscous and dump it in the pan.
What’s in the pan: a whole celery root, trimmed and diced, and sauteed in olive oil with shallots and garlic until caramelized. The leaves of the celery tops are finely chopped and mixed in at the last minute with a knob (as the brits say) of butter, and a cup of grated parmesan. Copious cracked pepper is a mildly spicy counterpoint to the herbaceous sweetness of the celery root.
1 pound Israeli couscous
1 cup of shallots or onions or leeks finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 celery root, trimmed and diced
4 tablespoons of butter, cubed
the leaves of one celery root, finely chopped
1 to 2 cups freshly grated parmesan
Cook 1 pound israeli couscous in copious amounts of abundantly salted water. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then cook shallots, garlic, and celery root until caramelized and tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add cooked Israeli couscous to skillet, stir until combined, then add butter, celery root leaves, and parmesan and stir until lovely and unctuous. If it’s getting dry, add a quarter cup of water or stock. Adjust seasoning, adding a spritz of lemon juice to brighten it up a bit if necessary and serve. Goes exceptionally well with fish, and likely with pork or chicken as well.