Winter vegetables, on the whole, are not a glamorous bunch. It takes work to dandy up a cabbage or turnip. Heaven knows parsnips aren't going to win any awards for being pretty. And don't even get me started on Jerusalem artichokes.
But some winter vegetables are seriously in need of a makeover and a better publicist. A prime example: celery root.
(Not my photo. It's from Wikimedia Commons.)
Poor celery root. It's one of those vegetables that garners puzzled looks at the farmer's market, and produces utter bafflement when it shows up unidentified in CSA boxes.
Its name is potentially misleading ("I didn't know celery had edible roots!"), but its other names are worse: celeriac, which sounds like a sneeze, celery knob, which sounds like a disease, and turnip-rooted celery, which is just plain awkward.
Frankly, the only winter vegetables that might be faring worse are kohlrabi and mangle-wurzel.
Celery root is undeserving of such an ignominious fate. Though it can be grated for slaw (as in the French salad celeri remoulade), or diced for soup, it truly comes into its own when cooked and pureed with a little butter or cream. As a side dish, celery root puree makes an interesting change from mashed potatoes (it goes particularly well with fish), but for something a little different, I like it as a filling for ravioli.
The original inspiration for the following dish was the ricotta cavatelli with celery root puree and sauteed spinach that I ate at Eastern Standard several months ago. The ingredients have been tweaked and rearranged: now it's the pasta that contains celery root puree, and the ricotta serves as the sauce. Swiss chard is more seasonally appropriate than spinach, and the walnuts add texture and a little extra richness. It's a dramatic transformation for the poor celery root, and quite a satisfying dinner on a cold night.
Celery root makeover: check. Next up: does anyone have any ideas for dandying up a mangle-wurzel?
Celery Root Ravioli with Swiss Chard, Ricotta, and Walnut Sauce
This recipe, like all ravioli recipes, is fairly straightforward, but time-consuming. You can spread the preparation out over two days if you like.
(Makes a lot of ravioli to freeze. Finished dish serves one, with leftovers for lunch.)
Take one celery root, about a pound in weight, and cut off each end so that the root sits flat. Use a knife to pare off the rough outer skin, then chop it into cubes or slices.
Place the celery root in a small pan and add enough vegetable stock to cover. Simmer, uncovered, for forty to fifty minutes, or until the celery root is tender. Stir in a tablespoon of butter. Once the celery root has cooled, puree with a stick blender or a food processor. Salt to taste. Transfer to a bowl; cover and refrigerate.
To make the pasta dough, dump two cups of all-purpose flour on a clean countertop. Make a well in the middle. Crack in four egg yolks. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of water. Add a dash of salt. Use your fingers to break up the eggs and swirl them around to pull the flour in, little by little. (More detailed instructions can be found here.)
Once you have a rather shaggy mass of dough, start kneading. Wet your hands if it seems very dry; continue kneading. Knead until you have a stiff dough that is very smooth to the touch. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once you're ready to assemble the ravioli, pull the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Set up your pasta maker, and roll out batches of the dough to the second-thinnest setting. (Probably about 5 or 6 on the dial, depending on your model.) Cover the sheets with a damp tea-towel.
Cut the dough into rough squares, about one-and-a-half inches wide. Take one square of dough, put a heaped teaspoon of filling on it, and lay a second square on top. Push down firmly with your thumbs around the filling to create a tight seal between the two layers of dough. Use a ravioli stamp or trim the edges as necessary. Set your finished ravioli on baking trays, and either cook immediately, or freeze for later use.
To prepare the sauce, begin with a bunch of Swiss chard, well-rinsed to get rid of any grit, and cut it into wide ribbons. Pour a little olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and throw in several cloves of garlic, cut into halves. Once the garlic starts to smell fragrant, add the Swiss chard and cook until lightly wilted. Turn the heat down low, and add half a cup of ricotta, blended with enough water to make it pourable. Add a generous handful of chopped toasted walnuts. Give everything a good stir; salt to taste. Turn off the heat.
Put a big pot of salted water on to boil, and drop in half the ravioli. When they float to the surface, they're cooked through. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, and toss them gently with the sauce.
Spoon onto a plate and top with plenty of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately.