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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Root Of It

I have been on a mission to clean out my stock-piled freezer. One of these nights I'm going to make a mystery stew with some of the leftover containers that contain heaven knows what.  Contrary to what I know I am supposed  to do, I don't label things.  I can recognize shrimp tails and chicken backs through their plastic bags, but the leftover stews, bourgiugnons, and pot roasts, not so much. Without apologies, I throw nothing away and I don't label what I don't throw away.

That being said, last night, hidden under brightly colored Italian Ice Pops, I found two long italian sausage links. Sausage and Kraut?  Nope, I'd have to schlepp through the snow to the garage for the kraut.  Sauteed savoy cabbage with sausages?  Nah, wasn't feeling it. I rumaged through the freezer one last time before finding frozen shrimp wedged behind the ice tray.  Bingo.  I'd make my take on shrimp and grits: Sauteed sausage, onions, green peppers, and shrimp over cheese grits.

I had one tablespoon of grits....still in the box in the pantry.  The woes of a food hoarder.  I had a gigantic bag of  polenta. I've cooked shrimp over polenta before, but didn't really feel like mucking through the process of stirring constantly while dodging plops and blops of erupting molten polenta.  Mashed potatoes?  Not again.   Rice? Wake me when it's over.

As I rifled through the vegetable  bin for the peppers, onions, carrots, and garlic, I spotted an ugly celery root tucked behind  mexican crema, Thai fish sauce, and a wine bottle.  I bought the celery root (celeriac) last week with the intention of making pureed celery root soup. Never happened.  I'd forgotton about it. 

I thought, if I treated the celery root like mashed potatoes or polenta,  it could the perfect base for my sausage, shrimp, and grits.

Game on.

No recipe needed.  I simply cooked.

Using a sharp knife, I sliced the waxy outer skin from the celery root before peeling the inner skin off with a vegetable peeler.  I chopped the root  into manageable pieces and tossed them  into salted boiling water with two small white baby potatoes to  cook for 45 minutes.

While the celery root bubbled away, I minced a garlic clove, sliced half an onion, green pepper, and carrots into thin strips and set them aside.  I sliced the sausages on the diagonal, seasoned the shrimp with Old Bay and smoked paprika, and slid them into the refrigerator alongside the prepared vegetables.

When the celery root was fork tender, I drained it, and returned it to the pot.  While it was still piping hot, I added 1 cup of parmigiano reggiano. 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup chicken stock, salt, and pepper.  Using my immersion blender, I whipped the cheesy celery root until it was as light as air before setting it aside over a very low flame to stay warm while I joined Michael in the parlor for our daily musings over several glasses of wine.
When it was time to eat, I cranked a skillet on high heat and sauteed the sliced sausages until crispy and caramelized.  I removed the sausages to drain and sauteed the shrimp in the gloriously rendered seasoned sausage fat.  I scooped out the shrimp, adding them to reserved sausages, and dropped the sliced green peppers, onions, garlic, and carrots into the sizzling oil.  When the vegetables were tender, I tossed in the reserved sausages, shrimp, and fresh parsley to heat through before deglazing the pan with white wine and chicken stock.
After the wine and stock reduced into a succulent clinging sauce, I spooned the celery root puree into large pasta bowls and topped it with the wine-stock-fat napped sausages, shrimp, and al dente vegetables.  For freshness, I scattered plucked fresh  parsley and celery leaves over the top.

The pureed celery root was the star.  It had an incrediblly clean, mellow, and earthy flavor that hinted with celery undertones. It was meltingly light, vanishing on the tongue with every bite.  The briny sweet tender shrimp and  spiced sausages grounded the airy puree while the wilted green peppers, soft onions, and crisp sweet carrots  wrapped their textural flavors throughout the saucy  mix, adding depth and complexity.
The bright fresh celery leaves echoed the muted quiet flavor of the celery root.

It was ridiculously good.

I thought I had made too much, silently thinking ahead and looking forward to a late night sleep-walking snack. Nope. We ate it all.  Clean plates. Gone. Do over, please.

Although I will always adore polenta, mashed potatoes, cheese grits, or even rice, last nights parmiginano reggianno celery root puree vaulted to the head of the pack.

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