by April Paffrath
At Siena Farms last weekend, I picked up a celeriac, or celery root, to supplement our CSA box. I love celery root…I think on it deliciously and fondly. The thing about it is, though, that I usually prepare it with other hearty root vegetables, like potatoes—and that's a wrong that I hastily righted this weekend.
On this recent trip to Oxford, it all changed. Before the elaborate Samuel Pepys dinner made by Fergus Henderson, I bought his two cookbooks Nose to Tail Eating and Beyond Nose to Tail. I asked him to sign one for lovely Genevieve, our "meat blogger," hoping it might inspire and inform her culinary quests. Since I haven't seen her since getting back, her cookbook has been sitting in my dining room, tempting me. I've read most of it by now. Although the premise of the book is all meat, there are several vegetable dishes, including the celery root one that rocked my world.
The dish is so simple in terms of flavor and concept: baked eggs nested in a mash of celery root and celery leaves. The round flavors of golden, runny yolks combine with the green of celery leaves and the deep root flavors of the celeriac. It's all a bit like a fresh breakfast hash and I think it would be lovely as a brunch or lunch dish—although we thought it was a perfect dinner dish that we'll repeat often. I love eggs for supper.
Don't go for a super smooth mash because the consistency with the eggs would be boring, so when you boil the celery root, stop before the pieces fall apart. The celery at Siena Farms is not like the celery at most grocery produce sections. Store celery can look pale and taste like bitter cardboard—and have almost no leaves at all. For this dish you want something more vibrant (and leafy). Siena Farms celery is bright green, so you taste plenty of those verdant, vegetal flavors that you look for in, well, vegetables. The tops of the celery stalks are crowned with perfect splays of gorgeous leaves. I've always been a fan of celery leaves—the parts of the plant all have different flavors and the leaves are delicate yet potent. I used the leaves from an entire stalk, so there was plenty of bright green in the dish and I think that set off the roundness of the eggs well.
Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds eggs were the choice for this dish. The yolks on their eggs are amazing and golden—almost orange. The pasture-fed chickens produce eggs that have flavor and color. I would not attempt this dish with insipid pale-yolked eggs, since the eggs are kind of the showcase piece. If you don't have a local producer of pasture-fed laying chickens, go for a brand you love, like Country Hen.
Celery Root Bake
adapted from Fergus Henderson in Nose to Tail Eating
- 1 celery root
- 1 to 1 1/2 sticks of butter
- celery leaves from one bunch
- 6 eggs
- Cube and boil the celery root in salted water. When tender, drain well.
- Mash with the butter. Use as much as looks tasty, but don't be shy. Worry about it for another dish.
- Chop the celery leaves and stir into the mash
- Put the mash into a baking dish and make 6 indentations. Fill each one with an egg. Henderson calls for 8 eggs, but I couldn't fit that many in my dish. If you can, go for it. Season each egg with a bit of salt and top with a dot of butter.
- Bake in a hot oven (I set mine for 475F) until the eggs set but the yolks are still runny. It took about 8-9 minutes for mine.
Eat and think of all the meals you could so easily make this for—breakfast, lunch, dinner.