Sometimes, I can’t stop playing with food in my head. I’ll buy a new ingredient, perch it proudly upon a shelf, and puzzle over what best to do with it for a whole week, until I’m finally forced to make a decision already.
But the whole process — the research on flavor combinations, the obsessive construction and deconstruction of the meal in my head — is a hell of a lot more fascinating than the final act of preparing the meal. By that point, it’s perfect in my mind, but rarely ends up achieving those ambitions upon completion. It’s kind of like a junior high crush. I waste so much energy thinking about the possibilities that I just can’t help but be disappointed when (more like if) the thing finally comes to fruition.
There is a difference, I promise you. In my “wise” old state (ha), I try again. And again. And learn from my mistakes. So this recipe — this product of a week-long obsession over one of the ugliest root vegetables on earth — is a quick glimpse at the start of a new relationship. Here, I realize the ingredient’s weakness, and its potential. And I come to understand a few of my own shortcomings as well.
Celery root dumplings
Serves 3, depending on hunger.
I’m calling these dumplings because my recipe is a bastardization of gnocchi. I don’t own a potato ricer, and had discovered (thanks to my dad) that you could make perfectly serviceable, pillow-soft gnocchi with nothing more than leftover mashed potatoes. When I saw Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for celery root puree, I sort of thought, well, that’s cool, but can I make a whole meal out of it? Hence the current recipe. It is far from exact, because a) it’s an experiment, and b) I figure the amount of liquid in your recipe will depend greatly on your ingredients. I’ll include variations I tried with this batch, and final notes on what I might do next time, in order to give you some guidelines should you decide to give this recipe a shot on your own.
- 1 small celery root, peeled and cubed into 1″ chunks.
- 1 small russet potato, peeled and cubed into 1″ chunks.
- 1 small onion, peeled and quartered.
- 1 dried avocado or bay leaf + pinch of anise seed. Avocado leaves can be found in Mexican markets (or Chinese markets, as I found). It’s kind of anise-y in flavor, and I thought it might be interesting to try out in this dish. I’m not sure it actually added anything to the final product.
- 3 c. buttermilk (not cultured — real buttermilk, which you will have leftover if you make awesome, homemade, sweet cream butter), whey, or 1.5 c. milk and 1.5 c. water.
- ~2 c. all purpose flour.
- 1 large egg.
- 2 t. coriander seed, crushed. If you have powdered coriander, stick to 1 t.
- 1 t. crushed red pepper, for version 1, or hot paprika, for version 2.
- 4 T. butter.
What I wished I had added to this ingredient list: 1 t. honey or maple syrup. Celery root has a sweetness that becomes sort of dull somehow when coupled with coriander and pepper. I think this ingredient would have fixed that problem.
In a medium-sized pot with lid, place the celery root, potato, avocado leaf, and buttermilk. Add water until the chunks are covered with liquid, and bring to a boil. Cook until the celery root and potato chunks are easily pierced with a fork. Drain, add 1 T. butter, a bit of pepper and salt, and mash until smooth. Let cool (perhaps overnight, in the fridge, until you’re ready to make dinner).
Place the celery root puree in a large bowl. Add ~1.5 c. flour and the egg, and mix until well combined. If the mixture is still really moist and doesn’t quite feel the gluten is doing anything, add more flour, and knead in the bowl. Continue the process until you have a moist but smooth and slightly elastic dough. Variation 1: proceed to the next paragraph. Variation 2: Decide on a whim that you want the spices to be part of the dough; mix in paprika and crushed coriander seed and re-form the ball of dough.
In a medium pot, fill with water, cover, and place over high heat.
Roll the dough out onto a board, and then cut off a small chunk of dough. Roll into a snake, and then cut the snake into 2 cm. pieces. Coat in flour, and set aside. Repeat until all the dough has been shaped.
When the water has come to a boil, add a large pinch of salt and about half the dumplings. Cook until they start to float, and then remove from the water with a slotted spoon. Let drain for a minute or two (while you add the next batch of dumplings to the pot).
Variation 1: Heat 3 T. butter in a heavy skillet until slightly brown in color. Add coriander and crushed red pepper, and cook, stirring rapidly, for a minute or so, until you smell the pepper. (I would add the honey or syrup at this point). Add the dumplings, and toss until thoroughly coated in the sauce. Cook for a few minutes more on one side, until the bottom surface turns golden brown; flip and do the same on the other side. Variation 2: Toss with melted butter (and honey/ maple syrup), then place in a dry pan. Crisp them up on both sides, almost like you would do for meatballs.
Serve immediately. Preferably with something pretty like this:
(Organic salad greens with sunflower seeds, dried cherries, champagne mango, strawberries, a balsamic reduction, and some good olive oil). No, this isn’t a seasonal salad. In fact, this isn’t a seasonal meal. I’m having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment, what with all the spring weather we’ve been having lately.
Version 1 tasted better in the end, though I think next time I’ll brown the dumplings before boiling them. Or I may just go ahead and bake them. They really are better as a slightly crispy, flavorful snack; I think the brown crispness complements the potent sweetish celery / raw fennel taste from the celery root nicely, and adding the butter to the pan before I browned them kept them from forming the golden crust I managed to obtain in version 2.