Not long ago, Jackie and I served a vegetable tart as a first course. It was delicious, and in a week or two I’ll explain how I made it, even though I don’t have any pretty pictures to prove that it actually existed.
One element of that tart was celery root (celeriac). I’d cut it into thick slabs – three per medium-sized celery root – and braised/steamed it in a covered pan with butter, a little water and a very little lemon juice until tender but not without texture. To form a layer of the tart filling, I’d then cut each slab into thinner slices; a few of these were left over and stored in the fridge. Several days later, it really was time to eat them: we were doing our best not to have too much leftover food in the house when we departed for a two-week trip. They could have been part of a rice dish – either a risotto or something paella-like – or they could have become a filling for ravioli, a particularly appealing idea.
When push came to shove, however, I simply didn’t feel like making, rolling and filling pasta, but did want something Italianate that would be nice with butter, sage and cheese or a light tomato sauce (we also had to use the ripe tomatoes that were softening by the minute), and I thought back to gnocchi I’d made using vegetables other than potatoes, notably winter squash. One fine thing about these is the trueness of their flavor: adding egg, flour and sometimes cheese does little to dilute the vegetable’s nature. Since celery root has one of the best flavors in the autumn market, these gnocchi would surely be terrific. And, as it turned out, they were.
I made a very small batch, dictated by the quantity of leftover celery root; it was enough for the two of us as a light main course (following some other leftovers). Quantities could easily be doubled or tripled for a dinner with guests. (They are certainly guest-worthy.)
I began by food-processing 5 ounces (145 g) celery root cooked as described above with 3 tablespoons (about an ounce or 30 g) of grated parmesan. For a more powerful flavor you could substitute pecorino. Still using the food processor, I added 3 or 4 leaves of fresh sage and pureed until the sage was very finely chopped. You could substitute a small handful of parsley. I then incorporated one egg yolk and transferred the mixture to a bowl, where I used a rubber spatula to beat in 1/4 cup (1 oz or 30 g) flour to yield a mixture that was soft and a little moist, but that held together well and did not sag when I used a spoon to form the dumplings.
It is prudent at this stage to poach a teaspoonful of the mixture for two and a half minutes in salted water to make sure it needs no further seasoning: the celery root will have been seasoned when it was cooked, and the cheese adds salt too. In the event, my mixture was fine as it was – there was just enough salt, and pepper would have been a distraction.
You can keep this in the fridge, well covered, for a few hours, and probably overnight.
Use a spoon dipped in water to form odd-shaped (or perfectly shaped if you insist) ovoids or spheroids about 1 tablespoon in volume, and deposit them onto a wet plate, then use a knife or spatula to quickly push them into the water one by one - they’ll slip right off the plate if it’s nice and wet. You can also slide them right from the wet spoon into the boiling water, but you’ll need to work fast to minimize the time lag between the first and the last gnocchi.
We ate ours with butter and sage. A light fresh tomato sauce would have been good too, but not as good. In either case, finish with a sprinkle of the same cheese you used in the mixture.
We got all the flavor of celery root in a lovely plate of light, tender gnocchi. And we were one step further toward a refrigerator emptied of leftovers. Which is not to say you can’t make these from scratch, as we will certainly do before too long.