There is so much flavour in this simple dish of fried mushrooms and celeriac puree, cooked only with olive oil, salt and pepper, and green herbs that it’s hard to believe that this makes a free-from option for vegans, gluten or dairy free guests.
For New Year’s Eve I wanted to make something that was delicious enough to feel special, looked wonderful on the table, was suitable for clean eaters, but wasn’t going to take forever to put together in the kitchen, given that I was also roasting a chicken for the meat eaters (which would then provide stock for a pilaf, and a curry, over the weekend) and preparing a host of other vegetable dishes.
Although I was tempted by big leafy bunches of chard, purple carrots and plump white aubergines in my local greengrocer, a couple of lovely firm celeriac bulbs, and some big fat field mushrooms ended up in my basket. My only query was whether the dish I had in mind would work without the heaping amounts of dairy that I love to eat with vegetables.
But it’s clear that a celeriac puree loses absolutely nothing by being made with olive oil instead of butter and cream. It is still silky and smooth and, I think, is better for not being so rich, enhancing the gentle flavour of the celeriac.
One of the legacies of the pervasive influence of French cuisine in the English kitchen is that reliance on butter, egg yolks and cream to add richness and silkiness to vegetable dishes: in a sauce, puree, or gratin, you can guarantee there will be one – or all – of the above.
Whether you are thumbing through your cookbook collection, or Googling the hell out of your search terms, you’ll find that the majority of recipes for a smooth celeriac puree will contain large amounts of cream and butter to be beaten vigorously through it.
Yet, as this dish more than proves, it’s perfectly possible to put a vegetarian dish on the table that punches far above its weight in the flavour stakes, and that still has a luxurious creaminess, without relying on those delicious – and sadly calorific – ingredients.
Given a preference of herb, I like to season the mushrooms with thyme, particularly lemon thyme if you can find it, although tarragon would be equally good.
To serve two as a main course, or four as a side dish. This dish is easily doubled, if more is required.
A food processor is ideal for making the puree silky smooth, but in its absence a food mill (mouli-legumes), or even a sieve and a wooden spoon, will suffice. If using either of the latter beat in the olive oil with a wooden spoon afterwards.
2 Celeriac bulbs
Four large flat mushrooms
Sea salt and black pepper
three or four sprigs of thyme, lemon thyme or tarragon.
Half a lemon
Put a saucepan of water on to heat.
Peel the celeriac, chop into small pieces and add to the water once it is boiling. Cook until the celeriac is very soft, then drain it.
Whilst the celeriac is cooking, put a large frying pan on to heat, with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the mushrooms across into approximately 1cm/1/2 inch slices and add to the pan when the oil is hot. Do not add salt at this stage, as it will cause the mushrooms to leak their juices, losing their plumpness.
Turn the heat down to medium, add the stripped leaves from two sprigs of thyme, and gently cook the mushrooms until they are soft. When they are cooked through, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and stir in a good pinch of sea salt and a grind of black pepper. Check the seasoning.
When the celeriac has been drained, add it to the food processor bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper, and process until completely smooth. Check the seasoning.
Spoon the puree onto a serving dish, and pile over the glistening mushrooms. If you are feeling fancy, sprinkle over some more fresh thyme.