Celeriac is a notorious vegetable, known for its ugly appearance and gnarly, rough and pockmarked exterior. Its tendril-like roots, stalks and leaves are usually removed before it’s put on sale, but they’re all edible, too. Shop directly via a veg box scheme or farm stall, and you may be able to procure the whole plant.
Celeriac was bred for its root from the same plant as celery, which is why the stem and leaves are so similar to a bunch of celery, if a little more intense in flavour. They’re especially useful when used as an aromatic herb to flavour sauces, soups and stews. Contrary to popular belief, the skin is also edible, so long as it’s cleaned, and it roasts and boils well.
“Sea bread” baked whole celeriac
Salt-baked whole fish or vegetables is a fun and elaborate way to cook, but it does create a fair amount of waste, in that the salt casing is discarded afterwards. Instead of using an inedible salty “pastry”, this dish turns the outer casing into an integral and delicious part of the meal in its own right, to dip into sauces and eat alongside the ingredient inside.
I’ve yet to try cooking them myself, but I once ate the fine roots of a celeriac at Atsushi Tanaka’s Restaurant AT in Paris, where the meticulously cleaned tendrils were steamed and served in a green emulsion decorated with juniper and edible flowers. Tanaka is an extraordinarily inventive and groundbreaking chef who serves exquisite, colourful, geometric and alien-like small plates, and this one looked as if the roots were about to walk off the plate.
I first came across sea bread in Rooi-Els, on the Western Cape of South Africa. While out foraging on the craggy coastline with my wife and her father, we discussed family recipes. We found some kelp – which grows in vast quantities there, filling the whole bay with nutritious green algae – collected some seawater and turned it into a loaf when we got back home. The knowledge that you’ve collected the ingredients yourself makes this bread uniquely tasty and a lot of fun, especially with kids.
The extra salt from the seawater makes this a perfect foil for baking vegetables. The bread encases the ingredients in their own little oven, so trapping and soaking up flavour. Unlike normal salt-baked foods, the casing is not only edible but rendered extremely delicious by the ingredients baked at its core. This approach also works with other vegetables such as globe artichokes, cauliflower and beetroot. Serve whole at the table to share, break off the bread and carve up the celeriac to serve with salsa verde, chimichurri, pesto, a simple lemon and extra-virgin olive oil dressing or kelp aïoli.
8g dried yeast
280g sea water (or filtered water mixed with 1 tsp sea salt)
400g wholemeal spelt flour, plus extra for dusting
8g dried sea lettuce, or another fine seaweed, torn
1 tsp sea salt
Zest and juice of ¼ lemon, plus 6 strips of peel
25ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus a glug extra to finish
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 small celeriac (500g), washed and root cut off
2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked
Mix the yeast into the water and set aside for 10 minutes.
Put the flour, sea lettuce, sea salt, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl, then stir in the yeast mixture until it all comes together. Add more flour or water, if necessary, until you have a firm but malleable dough, then knead for 10 minutes. Cover and prove for 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle large enough to wrap around the celeriac, then scatter the lemon zest and thyme leaves on top.
Put the cleaned celeriac in the centre of the dough and carefully wrap it up, sealing the edges by pressing them together with your fingers. Put on an oven tray and bake at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 for two hours. Remove, leave to rest for 15 minutes, then take to the table, crack open and carve. Serve with green sauce for dipping.