I’m not in any position to mess or muddle with tradition, but am I the only one who thinks that the same ole’ thing every single year can become a bit….mundane? Granted there are certain things that, at least in my family, you just must have every year for the Thanksgiving equation to be complete: turkey is the obvious denominator, but without stuffing, mashed potatoes, and some form of pumpkin dessert to go alongside, that fourth Thursday in November just wouldn’t feel whole. So, as I said, and as alluded to by the title of this post, I am picking on the weakest link and declaring him the most fusty of the holiday line-up: mashed potatoes. Of course, I have nothing against spuds – in fact, I have a very strong adoration for them, as evidenced here, here, and here. And I do enjoy regular old mashed taters at the holidays – so long as there is loads of butter and cream involved – but at the very core of what mashed potatoes are, they are not exactly inventive.
Instead of bastardizing them entirely and adding in unnecessary calorie-laden accoutrement such as bacon or cheddar cheese or sour cream, I will be making this (dare I say it) lighter recipe; one that cuts the potato in half, adds in double the amount of celery root, and relies on a gentle boil in milk for it’s creaminess, rather than using cream itself. There is still butter involved (durr…it’s Thanksgiving) but only enough to give the dish a richness and flavor that without it, just isn’t worth it.Before you agree that this in fact sounds like an idea you are willing to spring upon your unsuspecting and traditional dinner guests, I must warn you that if you are not familiar with celery root, you may be in for a bit of a shock. Granted potatoes are not exactly celebrated for their good looks and refinement, but the celery root is downright beastly: it is misshapen and homely and has a cobbley outer skin that sprouts random hairs and stringy bits….
…did that discourage you at all? Once you get over its repugnant looks and hack off the offensive outer layer with your knife, you are left with creamy and pale knob of flesh that smells faintly of celery. Not a even a hint of it’s former self. Thank goodness.
After a quick cook till tender, the onion, celery root, and potato is pureed together with a handful of basil and thyme and a generous hand of salt and pepper. It emerges smooth, silken, and the most perfect base to mop up with slices of turkey and catch overflowing pools of gravy.
The taste is delicate and just slightly sweet, with a very light overtone of celery; but one that most people could not place. If you are not a huge fan of celery do not let that deter you, for if not told what one was eating the taste is not so ‘celery-y’ that it would turn you off. It is fresh tasting and different, yet not so far off from it’s mashed potato cousin that you will feel like anything is missing at the Holiday table.
3 cups whole milk* (I use 2 cups – see below)
3 cups water* (I use 2 cups – see below)
1 tablespoon salt
2 large celery roots (about 2 1/2 pounds total), peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 medium russet potato (about 10 ounces), peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 small onion, peeled, quartered
5 tablespoons butter, cut into 5 pieces
ground white pepper
sea salt to taste
small handful of fresh basil
tools: food processor (a blender would work in a pinch)Bring milk, water, and salt just to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat. Add celery root cubes, potato cubes, and onion quarters; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes; watch the pot as it cooks, the milk will cause the mixture to boil over easily, and will create a mess.When the vegetables are very tender when poked with a knife, drain, and discard the cooking liquid, saving just about a cup or so just in case your puree is too thick.**
Combine the cooked vegetables and the butter in processor and puree until smooth – you want a uniform and smooth puree with no chunks or roughness. Add in the fresh basil & thyme leaves, and pulse the mixture until the herbs are well incorporated but you can still see small green flecks.
Season to taste with salt and white pepper (these veggies are inherently a bit bland, and I find that I need to add quite a bit of salt to get the taste where I like it).
Do ahead: Celery root puree can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. When ready to serve, heat on the stove top, stirring frequently
*I find that I never usually need this much liquid to cover the vegetables. I reduce it to about 2 cups of each, and then add additional as needed. Since you are throwing the liquid away, I hate to waste too much milk.
**I save just a bit of the cooking liquid in case for some reason my puree is too thick (it never usually is, but depending on the celery root or potato you choose, it might be). Never hurts to save it just in case.