When we were in San Francisco a couple months ago, one night we ended up at Outerlands, a restaurant in the Outer Sunset that happens to be known for its soup. As I’ve mentioned before, celery root is one of my favorite root vegetables of all time, and there was actually a celery root soup on the menu. Our neighborhood stores at home do not carry celery root, so I was practically beside myself. When I ordered it, however, I tasted plenty of cream and salt, but no celery root to speak of. It could’ve been potato soup for all I knew. This experience has been bothering me for two months. I knew if I could just get my hands on some celery root, I could make the very celery root soup I wished I had had that night. And believe it or not, dear reader, this weekend I found some celery root. It was probably the most paltry, mangy, past-its-prime celery root in the state (at least, of the celery roots not currently residing in a dumpster or landfill), but to me it was victory.
The idea to pair celery root with beer came from Mario Batali’s “Simple Family Meals From My Home to Yours.” It’s actually quite genius (the concept, not the book, although the book is pretty good too) and something I freely admit I never would’ve thought of on my own, as there is something slightly lager-ish about celery root that becomes really apparent once they’re together, making this just about the best soup imaginable for celery root lovers and maybe something Outerlands should think about trying. The amounts below make for about 6 servings. (In other words, lunch for the next few days. Which works quite fine, because it’s better the longer it sits.)
-Soup pot with lid
• 1 1/2 lbs. celery root (2 small or 1 large), peeled and cut into large dice: $4.07
• 4 12-oz. cans lager beer (CHEATING! A friend brought some for dinner the other night and we had a few cans left): $0
• 2 leeks: $2.19
• 2 onions, thinly sliced: 30 cents
• 4 T butter: 24 cents
• 4 T olive oil: 24 cents
• 4 oz. bacon, thinly sliced crosswise: 44 cents
• 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced: 36 cents
• 1 cup crème fraîche*: 70 cents
• Salt and white pepper (if you want to avoid black flecks): 2 cents
TOTAL: $8.56/6 = $1.43/serving
*If you can afford this, great, but I make a cheater version by mixing a cup of cream with a tablespoon of Greek yogurt and letting it sit out in a bowl for a couple days. It sounds gross, but it totally works.
Cut the dark green tops and scraggly bottoms off the leeks. Thinly slice them, put the slices in a bowl, and cover with water. Swish it around a bit to loosen any dirt or grit, then lift the slices out.
You’re going to be sweating the vegetables (melting the cell walls, basically, not sautéing or browning), so you’re going to want to make a parchment paper lid. This all but eliminates evaporation and condensation, and if you’ve never done it before, you’ll be surprised at how the vegetables really do seem to melt. Take your soup-pot lid and trace around it on a piece of parchment paper.
Cut out the circle—it should be the perfect size to sit inside the pot, on top of the vegetables. Heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat in the soup pot. Add the onions, leeks, celery (but NOT the celery root yet), and a tablespoon of kosher salt (yes, a tablespoon). Put the parchment on top of the vegetables and cook on medium-low for about 20 minutes, lifting the parchment lid to stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook the rest of the bacon pieces and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
After 20 minutes, add the celery root and half the bacon, cover, and cook for another 2o minutes. Add the beer and crème fraîche (or “crème fraîche”), bring to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for another 25 minutes. Purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender. It may take a while to get it to a super-creamy consistency, but it’s worth it. Bring back to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve sprinkled with the rest of the bacon.