We can’t get celery here but all winter long we get fantastic celeriac. The leaves give soups and stews a celery flavour but the stems are too tough to use for anything that isn’t cooked for several hours. The traditional way to cook it here is as a zeytinyağlı mezze which is, indeed, delicious, but we have also roasted it and used it in soup. Recently, though we adapted a River Cottage recipe for celeriac and chilli gratin. Well, we did try the original and found it a bit too richly creamy and not cheesy enough. So we used bechamel instead of cream and, because fresh chilli is very expensive and difficult to come by now, pul biber or plain acı biber flakes.
First you make a bechamel with flour, butter and milk. For two people about 2/3 of one of those little cartons of milk is sufficient. The quantity is not critical but it should be around the consistency of cream. Grate some cheese (we use ordinary kaşar – you could use gruyere or cheddar). Then peel and slice the celeriac thinly (the original recipe says to the thickness of a 10p piece). Mix the celeriac slices in a large bowl with enough oil to coat them and seasonings – also a finely chopped up chilli if you have one and/or some chilli flakes. This is a hands-on job and quite messy. Then mix in about half the bechamel.
Spread about half the slices in a gratin dish (or anything shallow that will go in the oven), then put just over half the cheese on top. Put in the rest of the celeriac and arrange it a bit, then pour on the rest of the bechamel and scatter with the rest of the cheese. This goes in a hot oven for about 45 minutes and comes out done. You might want to put the cheese on top after it’s been in the oven a while – this depends how crispy you like your cheese.
Served with a julienned salad on a bed of rocket topped with chopped beetroot.