Eating East of Eden

12 Jan

I picked up and left the Promised Land when I was 21. Of course, I didn’t fully understand what I’d left behind, because I’d taken it all for granted. The sunshine and the bright light, the wide blue Pacific, and the bounties of the produce section were all just part of my day-to-day existence. Nothing special.

Then I left home, and I learned what cold was. Not just California cold, but cold where you need a wool coat, and proper boots, and a knit hat. Cold that makes your face numb and your joints ache. And the supermarket reflected this change in the weather; nothing looks much sadder than the fruits and vegetables in a British grocery store in January.

But rather than bemoaning what I don’t have, I’ve developed a kind of appreciation for what’s here. Seasons, for one thing. In California, there’s just a time for sun and a time for rain. But here you can really sense the changes between summer and fall, winter and spring. I relished crunching through the leaves in London Fields in October, and I look forward to the first day of real warmth in May, when we can have our friends over for a barbecue on the roof terrace.

Another thing I’ve come to enjoy is the root vegetable. I knew about potatoes and carrots of course, but had never seen or cooked with parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, or celeriac.

Celeriac (or celery root, as it’s known in the States) is a strange, knobbly beast. Frankly, it looks like an enormous brown lump. But when you cut it open, the flesh is creamy white and smells like the essence of celery, herbal and fresh. You can treat it like any root vegetable and mash it into potatoes or turn into a soup (which is especially good paired with apple).

But where I really like it is in meaty stews, like the sausage stew here. It adds the bulk that any root vegetable does to a braise, but its flavour lightens everything else. It’s a hint of spring in an otherwise wintry meal. This could also make a tasty vegan soup, with the sausages and Worcestershire sauce taken out and mushroom or vegetable stock replacing the meat stock.

If you’ve got your celeriac, but are mystified as to how to break the thing down, the good women over at Food 52 have produced an excellent video demonstrating how to do it.

Sausage Stew with Celeriac and Kale (via Everyday and Sunday: Recipes from Riverford Farm)

Serves 4

500g good sausages (I use beef ones, but feel free to use pork)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced
½ a celeriac, peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 spring fresh thyme (or a teaspoon of dried)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato puree
100ml red wine
600ml beef or chicken stock
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
200g kale, stripped from stalks and shredded (Sainsbury’s sells 200g bags of pre-prepped kale)
400g tin white beans, rinsed and drained

Making the Thing

In a large, heavy-based sauté pan over medium-high heat, shallow-fry the sausages in the oil until they are no longer pink on the outside and have some brown crispy parts, around 5-7 minutes. Remove the sausages, leaving behind the oil.

Add the onions to the pan and fry until soft, 7-8 minutes. Add the celeriac, and mix into the onions. Then add the garlic, herbs, and tomato puree and stir well for 2 minutes.

Celeriac mixed with tomato, onion, garlic and herbs

Mix in the red wine, and stir for around 30 seconds, then add the stock, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard.

Bring the contents of a pan back up to a gentle simmer, add the sausages back in, then cover. Simmer for around 20 minutes. Add the kale on top, recover, and allow to wilt on top of everything else for 10 minutes. Stir it through, then add the white beans and cook another 5 minutes.

Et voila!

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One Response to “Eating East of Eden”

  1. Erin January 12, 2012 at 11:20 AM #

    That sounds lovely. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his ‘River Cottage Everyday’ book does a wonderful collection of seasonal slaws, the winter entry being with celeriac and carrot. It is definitely worth checking out if you are a celeriac fan!

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