Root manoeuvre: Mark Hix cooks with celeriac

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Weird and wonderful vegetables that no one knew what to do with were once called "queer gear" by greengrocers. These days, we are more experimental with our fruit and veg, although there are still a few "ugly" ones that get left behind. Celeriac is one of the ugly bunch and a lot of people just don't know where to start with it. OK, so it's not the most beautiful of vegetables, but it's jam-packed with flavour. (I recently had a customer in one of my restaurants complain that it tasted of celery!) Celeriac mash is the most common way of using it, but don't stop there. Made into soup, puréed with braised dishes, or cut into chunks and roasted are just some ideas for this flavoursome root vegetable.

It's probably the tough exterior that puts a lot of people off. Just chop that all off – and it'll already look more appealing. It's worth remembering that, like avocado, celeriac browns quickly, so make sure to plunge the chopped pieces into a bowl of cold water with some vinegar to stop it from discolouring.

Three celery salad with ham hock and mustard

Serves 4

This is like a celery family salad. I grow parcel down in Dorset, which is like a celery-flavoured flat parsley leaf, and it seems to survive all through the winter. Ham hock is one of those great all-round meats that sits as happily in a salad as it does in a hefty main course. You will have enough ham hock left over for sandwiches or another salad once you have used it for this.

1 ham hock, soaked in cold water overnight
1 small or half a head of celeriac, peeled
4 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy
A handful or so of parcel or celery leaves
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
2tsp grain mustard
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

Rinse off the ham hock, place in a large saucepan and cover well with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours, or until the meat is just coming away from the bone. Leave to cool in the liquid.

Cut the celeriac into rough 2cm, odd-sized pieces and blanch in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until just tender; remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Cut the celery into cm-thick slices on the angle and blanch for a minute in the celeriac water; drain and leave to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy or non-stick frying pan and fry the pieces of celeriac for 3-4 minutes, seasoning lightly as they are cooking, until lightly coloured; transfer to a plate and leave to cool a little.

For the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together and season. Remove the ham hock from the bone and break into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the celeriac, celery and the leaves on serving plates with the ham hock, season and spoon over the dressing.

Celeriac and Lancashire cheese pie

Serves 4-6

If this sounds like some kind of vegetarian main course at a dinner party, well it pretty much is, and most vegetarians would be really happy to be served a slice of this. You could even get away with serving non-vegetarians this dish – or just make it to take in a packed lunch for work or a spot of fishing.

A couple of good knobs of butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 celeriac weighing about 350g
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g Lancashire cheese, grated
About 250-300g puff pastry, rolled to cm thick
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Melt the butter in a pan and gently cook the onion without colouring for 2-3 minutes; remove from the heat and leave to cool. Cut the celeriac in half and slice it as thinly as possible with a very sharp knife or a mandolin. Blanch the slices in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes.

Cut the puff pastry into two discs, one about 20cm across and the other about 25cm. Lay the smaller one on a tray and prick holes in it with a fork. Arrange layers of the celeriac on the pastry, leaving a 2cm gap around the edge; scatter with some onion, a little cheese and season.

Continue layering up the rest of the ingredients in a dome fashion until you have used them all up. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg and lay the larger one on top, pressing the edges together with your fingers. Brush the top with egg and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes; test with a knife to ensure the celeriac is cooked.

Celeriac remoulade

Serves 4

This is one of those classic French salads that feels like it's a distant cousin of coleslaw. It's so popular in France that you can even buy the celeriac pre-shredded, but why bother when the fresh stuff is available? Celeriac remoulade is the perfect accompaniment to charcuterie, cold meats and even smoked fish.

1 small head of celeriac, peeled
5-6tbsp homemade or good-quality mayonnaise
1tbsp Dijon mustard
1-2tbsp chopped parsley

With a very sharp knife or a mandolin, cut slices of celeriac about 2cm thick, then cut those slices into 2cm shreds. Mix the mustard, mayonnaise and parsley together, then mix with the celeriac and season to taste.

Celeriac and bramley apple soup with cheddar croutons

Serves 4-6

Celeriac is perfect for soup – even better when it's paired up with good-flavoured apples like russet or cox. You could also use sweeter cooking apples for this.

750g celeriac, peeled and roughly diced
1 bramley apple, peeled, cored and roughly diced
60ml cider
60g butter
1.2ltrs vegetable stock
90ml double cream
2 x 1cm-thick slices of bread with the crusts removed
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g cheddar cheese, finely grated

Gently cook the celeriac in the butter, in a covered pan for about 5 minutes, giving the occasional stir and not allowing them to colour. Remove the lid, add the apple, cider and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the celeriac is soft.

Blend in a liquidiser until smooth and strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Bring back to the boil, add the double cream and adjust with a little water or stock if it's too thick.

Meanwhile, cut the slices of bread into rough 1cm cubes. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based or non-stick frying pan and fry the pieces of bread on a medium heat for a few minutes, turning them as they are cooking, until they are golden; transfer to a baking tray, scatter with the cheese and cook under the grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese has melted.

Serve in hot soup bowls and scatter the croutons on top.

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