Apple-celery root au gratin…very good in theory, but not a big hit with family

July 3rd, 2013 Laura

Due to my repeated frequenting of the Union Square Greenmarket in the past couple of years, I have introduced my immediate family and those who come in contact with them to a number of new and exotic veggies. Sometimes this has gone remarkably well, as in the case of the Peruvian Purple Potatoes. Sometimes this has backfired, as in the case of my latest experimental culinary production, Apple-celery root au gratin.
Last time I was at the Greenmarket (the last one of the season) I got bold and decided to buy a vegetable I’d seen there before, but had never actually tasted: celery root or celeriac. The man who sold me two grotesque knobly bulbs had a sign recommending frying it and sauteeing it with apples and onions. I was also aware that you could make soup with it, but with NYC’s unseasonably warm winter this year, I started looking for alternatives. I found one in Apple-celery root au gratin, a casserole-like concoction which combined elements of the above strategies. I had enough of the Honeycrisp apples from my trip to the Greenmarket. I had _almost_ enough of the celery root, and ended up with even less, the larger of the bulbs having grown a beard-like coating of fluffy white mold before I got the right time and circumstances for preparing a dish with such long prep times. I ended up using only one smallish celery root, when the recipe called for three average-sized celery roots. Maybe I shouldn’t have sliced the white fibrous part and included it in the dish, but having never eaten celery root before, I had never been given any pointers concerning how it was “supposed” to be. While celery root was never served by my mother while I was growing up, it was also never discussed. When I brought home the E.T.-looking roots from the greenmarket, my sister was amused, but my mother was anything but. She claimed that she hated celery root, and that her mother (my grandmother) had served it often when she was growing up. This was a fact I hadn’t known, in part because Grandmother died when I was five years old, after a battle with cancer in which she, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t do much cooking in the last few years of her life, and, in part, because when my mother discussed her formative years, it was usually to talk about how wonderful they were. Nevertheless, every so often, when family lore was being discussed, some little clue would emerge that would suggest what she led others to believe was a reasonably happy and wholesome childhood, had its dark shadows and wasn’t all it appeared to be.
I had no gouda in the house, and circumstances weren’t right for me to go shopping for it, so I substituted some powered Romano cheese in the fridge which really needed to be used. Nobody else had prepared anything else for dinner, so I thought potential acceptance of the dish may have hit a sweet spot. My sister refused it, initially, saying “what did you make for me?” My mother had a taste of it, but only a taste. She said during the evening afterwards (and after she, too, had eaten some leftovers from the fridge) that “it stayed with me”. Perhaps due to the fact that it contained cream and cheese, she thought it was too rich? I was the only one who ate an entire serving as an entire dinner, and, while I did not consider it absolutely terrible, I could see how mixing “savory” and “sweet” foods was an acquired taste that they hadn’t acquired yet. Also, the exact version from the recipe would have been better and milder-tasting.
Having used olive oil to sautee the onion and brown the panko, I could see how sticking to the original version would have altered the dish in another way: I also would have enjoyed the bits of bacon on top, but they would have violated the saturated-fat conscious consensus of the household. I rarely get to have bacon and to use some in the context of something more elaborate than a BLT violates several unwritten sumptary laws in my family.
My sister did actually try some later on, but she said “it even looks like Eggs Erroneous” and damned it with the faint praise about mixing sweet and savory that I have repeated above.

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