I spent a long time watching things grow last year. The peas, courgettes and spinach seemed to spring up in the blink of an eye, and they could be
I spent a long time watching things grow last year. The peas, courgettes and spinach seemed to spring up in the blink of an eye, and they could be cooked pretty quickly, too, but the roots I planted, such as potatoes and carrots, seemed to enjoy taking their time. The celeriac, for instance, took months to develop into something sweet and nutty, but it was well worth the wait. It’s the same in the kitchen: slow down, cook gently, watch and wait … it always pays off in the end.
Celeriac baked potatoes (pictured above)
“Why?” you might ask. “Why must you play around with nature? Why upset the balance by creating this science project, this freak? We love baked potatoes just the way they are.” What can I say? I love them, too, but I longed for something new. I wanted to bolt on flavour and change their behaviour, so I spliced them with celeriac as best I could to form a new breed: a super-potato. Behold, the “baked celeriopto”! Serve with a dressed green salad.
Prep 20 min
Cook 2 hr
Serves 4 as a side or first course
4 large baking potatoes
Flaky sea salt and black pepper
50g unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into 2-3cm dice
1 small handful dried ceps (AKA porcini)
100ml double cream
100ml whole milk
1 tsp dried seaweed flakes (optional)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1 handful grated cheddar
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Wash the potatoes, then sprinkle them with a little salt, put on an oven tray and bake in the middle of the oven for an hour to an hour and a quarter, until cooked through. Remove (leave the oven on) and, when cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in half and scoop out as much hot flesh as you can without tearing the skins. Put the flesh in a bowl, and return the hollow skins to the oven for 10 minutes more, to crisp up, then remove and set aside.
While the skins are crisping, heat a heavy pan over a medium-low heat. Add the butter and, once it’s melted and bubbling, add the onion, garlic, celeriac and dried ceps, and season. Cook, stirring regularly, for 25-30 minutes, or until the celeriac is nice and soft (if it starts to catch on the bottom of the pan, lower the heat and add a dash of water, which should solve that problem). Add the cream, milk, potato flesh, seaweed flakes (if using) and parsley, season again to taste and stir to combine.
Pile the celeriac and potato mixture into the crisped skins, put these back on the baking tray and scatter the cheese over the top. Return the filled potatoes to the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the filling is nice and hot in the middle. Serve sprinkled with flaky salt and a dressed green salad on the side.
Carrots cooked in butter, red wine, bay, star anise and cinnamon
Carrots, like so many of our favourite root vegetables, can be cooked, or not cooked, in a thousand wonderful ways, and this is one of them. The whole process happens very slowly, and at a very gentle heat. I wanted to create something similar to those carrots you find in a beef stew after hours of lazy simmering, only without the beef. Star anise and cinnamon complement the sweetness of the carrots, while the red wine and butter combine to create a beautiful, rich sauce.
Prep 10 min
Cook 3 hr 10 min
Serves 4 as a side
6 shallots, halved
2 smallish garlic bulbs, cut in half widthways
4-6 bay leaves
2 star anise
2-3cm cinnamon stick
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 good pinch chilli flakes (optional)
300ml red wine
50g unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
Heat the oven to 140C (120C fan)/275F/gas 1. Scrub the carrots (or, if the skins are overly tough, peel them) and arrange in a flattish layer in a medium roasting tin. Nestle in the shallot and garlic halves, add the bay leaves and spices, and pour over the wine. Dot the butter all over the top and cover the tin tightly with foil, to keep in all the steam as the carrots cook.
Bake gently for three hours, carefully turning the vegetables once or twice during cooking and neatly reinstating the foil each time. After three hours, the carrots should be fork-tender and the sauce rich and buttery.
Season and bring to the table. I like to serve these with mashed potatoes or a simple couscous salad studded with plenty of chopped parsley.
• Recipes extracted from Root Stem Leaf Flower, by Gill Meller (Quadrille, £27). To order a copy for £23.49, go to guardianbookshop.com.