Are more types of vegetables commonly available than when I was a child? I often read about the drastic decline in agricultural variety; and yet I can think of so many veggies – asparagus, kohlrabi, celeriac, sweet potato, fennel, Brussels sprouts, purple turnips, white turnips, beetroot, chard, snow peas, shallots, chicory, broad beans, red pepper – that I never ate or even saw as a child and which we now eat all the time.
I wonder, in fact, whether we have lived through the Great Decline – embodied in my family history by my grandmother's cooking: perfectly adequate, but regarded by her as a mimic of the Real Thing, that is, store-bought food, and accordingly bland – and are now experiencing a Great Resurgence? Or is this merely because I am wealthy, pretentious, and shop organic? I wonder.
One of my favourite vegetables, discovered only a few years ago, is celeriac. I had read about this vegetable, intrigued. I perused my recipe books, and contemplated how a tuber might taste earthy and yet still like bright green celery; I pored over descriptions of the knobbly root; I wondered whether I would ever taste it... then lo! celeriac appeared at our local shops and yea, I bought it and hallelujah! it was good. Selah.
Celeriac is delicious in a lentil stew; but it is most excellent in its classic preparation, celeriac rémoulade. The vegetable is shredded and tossed through a mustardy mayonnaise with parsley or tarragon. Celeriac rémoulade is lovely at dinner as a side dish; but at lunch, it takes centre stage. With some bread, some olives and some sliced ham, such a lunch can be magnificent.
The recipe that follows includes the recipe for mayonnaise posted earlier.
Place a heavy bowl on a damp cloth on the bench; the cloth will stop the bowl from sliding around. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard and a pinch of salt into the bowl, and whisk. The bigger the balloon of the whisk, the easier this is.
Add the olive oil just a drop, and I do mean just a drop, at a time, whisking frantically all the while. This job is made infinitely easier if you have an oil nozzle on your oil bottle. Once you have added a couple of tablespoons of oil drop by drop, and the mixture is starting to look like mayonnaise, you can add it in a thin stream, still whisking continuously (I use my left hand to drizzle, and my right to whisk; you could also use an apprentice to drizzle as long as the apprentice understands that they must not slosh it in). When most of the oil has been added and you have a lovely soft glop, taste for lemon and salt, and correct as needed. Leave it very slightly bland as the lemon juice on the shredded celeriac will sharpen the flavour.
(If the oil is added too quickly, the mayonnaise can split. If it does, place another egg yolk into a clean bowl and whisk it. Gradually add the mayonnaise a little at a time, whisking frantically all the while, until it is combined and all is right with the world. Alternatively, you can whizz it in the food processor, although it won't be as lovely and light.)
Using a heavy sharp knife, carve off the wrinkly skin of the celeriac. You may need to slice quite deeply to remove all the grubby bits. Grate the root on the large holes of a box grater, and place the gratings into a bowl. Toss them with the juice of half a lemon, then drop them into the bowl of mayonnaise and mix well.
Serve at once, or store in the fridge for up to a day until needed. I make celeriac rémoulade for dinner, and eat leftovers for lunch the next day with bread, ham and glee.
(Local: eggs, celeriac, lemon, olive oil, herbs. Not local: mustard, salt.)