Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Roasted celeriac soup


I'm not sure how to write this. It's generally about soup but also features the best meal I've ever eaten; the inspiration behind this recipe.

Let's start with the meal. It was at Midsummer House, Daniel Clifford's Michelin two star in Cambridge; a place I've been wanting to try for ages. There was no real occasion. We were visiting a friend in Halesworth and decided to do a tour of Cambridge with Etien (and his new girlfriend!) on the way home.



I'll put the menu up so you can see what we had but I don't want to review the meal... apart from to say it was catastrophically brilliant. I've not had better... or paid more. Wow. It was expensive. My wallet was left severely traumatised. It was worth it though. It was the ten course tasting menu. Ten courses with an additional five canapé courses and chocolates at the end. We'd actually ordered the seven course menu but after a couple of canapés I switched. One of the canapés was a celery sorbet in a Bloody Mary foam. It was one of the best things ever to enter my face. Later there was a dish of celeriac, hazelnuts and celery. I was inspired to make my own celery family dish. 
I say 'inspired' but in truth, the meal left me a little downcast the next day. It's a little like scaling a mountain for many hours, pausing to take on water, feeling near the top, only for the clouds to clear and realising you've not much left base camp. I will never cook this well. This was astonishingly accomplished food. I can hear my wife and children kindly offering caveats (they are professionals; there are 32 staff for 40 guests; they use ingredients that I can't afford; they have all manner of gadgetry) but there is a certain plangent humility in realising - and tasting- that there is a height you will never attain, no matter how hard you try. This isn't me looking for plaudits, honestly. 

If you value your food, try and go there... once in your life. I'm hoping to revisit. Maybe for my 50th birthday which is advancing fast.

And so to soup.

Ugly bugly

Celeriac, essentially the root of the celery plant, must be one of the ugliest veg. It looks like a warty turnip with a ghastly mass of tentacle roots. Its appearance may be off-putting but please persevere, it's not hard to work. Cut off the roots and peel the skin and you have a waxy white mass, not dissimilar to a potato, full of flavour and minerals. Scrub the skin with a brush of some form, to ensure you remove all traces of grit and dirt.

Initially I'd thought of a brilliant white soup, with just the roasted insides of the celeriac. Served maybe with a blob of sweet, black grape must as a contrasting garnish. But once I'd cooked the root slowly (two hours and more at 160°C) and tasted various parts I realised that  most of the flavour was in the skin. Much like my roasted cauliflower dish, the natural sugars had caramelised, bringing a sweetness and complexity to the table. Given I have a oooper-sooper-doooper blender now I figured I'd bung the lot in and see how it turned out.

It turned out great.

Roasted for two and a half hours

Does this look like a beaver to you?

Roasted Celeriac Soup
Makes about a litre.

Take one celeriac and trim the roots right back, trimming off anything too fibrous. Scrub the veg well with hot water. We're going to eat the whole thing.

Roast on a baking tray for at least two hours at 160°C, until the insides yield to a tentative hand. It will wheeze when you squeeze, like an asthmatic tortoise*. This will vary, depending on the size of your roots. Don't go faster and hotter as you may burn the skin. Dark, sticky brown is fine but black and ashy is more suited for the crematorium than a soup. 

Allow to cool and cut into small chunks. Blend this with milk and some cream until very smooth. You may have to sieve the liquid, depending on the effectiveness of your blender.  This is the only real work in the recipe. Blending a whole celeriac is a bit of a potch. How much milk and cream is up to you. Start with 500ml and add more if you need to physically blend. I wanted a fairly thick, velvety texture so I added some double cream too but you need not.

Season with salt, white pepper and the juice of at least half a lemon. The soup is actually quite bland until you add salt. Don't be afraid to add quite a lot, just do it carefully, tasting as you go. 

Now we come to the garnishes. Cream is obvious but I wanted some crunch too so I toasted some sliced almonds. A little contrasting texture and acidity was needed so I pickled some celery and added a few crenelated gems (sorry . But would cream and pickle go? I wasn't sure at first until I realised that with a small tilt of the head, the question becomes 'do cheese and pickle' go? Then the answer's obvious.



*No, I've never torturted a tortoise, asthmatic or otherwise. I'm just really bored and the metaphor amused me.



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