Celeriac, also known as celery root, is the root ball of celery. It derives from wild celery, called "smallage," which has a small, edible root and has been used in Europe since ancient times. Celeriac, like celery, is from that wonderful family of useful root crops, the Umbellifrae, that also includes carrots, parsley (including rooted parsley), parsnip, fennel, dill, coriander, and some other less-common herbs. Umbellifrae are easily recognized by their characteristic lacy top growth.
At first glance, celeriac’s exterior – knobbly and rough – may seem discouraging, but celery root has an inner beauty. With a delicate taste reminiscent of celery and parsley, what sets it apart from the former is its earthy nuttiness. Its flesh is crisp when raw and silky smooth when cooked.
In the English language, the name "celery" only came to be in 1664. It’s derived from the French céleri, which comes from the Italian seleri, the plural of the Latin selero, the Latinized Greek word for parsley. In fact, the Ancient Greek colony of Selinous, in Sicily, was named after the wild celery that grew there. Celery was originally cultivated for medicinal purposes, well before 850 BCE. Historically, celery seed was used to treat colds, flu, water retention, poor digestion, arthritis, and liver and spleen ailments.
Celeriac became popular in Germany, France, and America in the mid-nineteenth century. One reason for this lies in its cultivation. Celery is difficult to cultivate because it requires a lot of inputs (water and fertilizer) and blanching (too keep it white or light green). Celeriac, on the other hand, carries the taste of celery without the difficulties of cultivation. As a root, celeriac will keep for months, whereas celery stalks wilt within weeks of harvest.
Celeriac is traditionally prepared as a remoulade, a French coleslaw-like salad made with a mustard, lemon, and mayonnaise dressing. It’s often mashed with potatoes or other root vegetables and makes a great addition to any pureed root vegetable soup. Boil cubes until tender (15 - 20 minutes) before mashing with potatoes and garlic. Celery root also works well in stews and roast celeriac is excellent with meat.
To prepare celeriac, trim leaves (if present) and root end. Scrub well and cut off the skin quite thickly to remove any brown bits and the root channels in the base. Drop cut pieces in water with a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Grate or cut into thin sticks for serving raw (blanch briefly in boiling water for a slightly softer, smoother texture).
High in fiber and water content, celeriac is a good source of Vitamins B9 and C, potassium, and phosphoros. It is appetizing, a diuretic, clensing, and anti-rheumatic.