Those of you who read last year's post on Thanksgiving know that, until recently, I'd lost touch with this holiday. Several things led to the rift between Thanksgiving and I. I left home for college, then grad school. My grandparents passed away. I spent several years living abroad. The ties to that steadfast notion of “home” from my childhood grew thinner and thinner until one day they were gone. Eroded by time and distance and my own apathy and self-centeredness, I suppose. For a long time, I simply couldn’t be bothered to make much of an effort.
But as I wrote last year, I've begun to embrace Thanksgiving again. I am married and settled and happy, with friends and family nearby and work that I love. Beau and I are talking about enlarging our own little family.
I spent my 20s and most of my 30s ping-ponging around the globe, looking for The Thing that would click my life flawlessly into place. I wanted the coolest job. The most enviable husband. A perfectly decorated house with a closet full of the chicest clothes. But of course I’ve finally realized things are perfect right here--in this home I’ve built for myself. It’s far from flawless, but it’s all mine. And it has nothing to do with what I own.
This is not a new tale, I know. But it makes me happy to think on it. And it makes me particularly happy to look forward to Thanksgiving again. This year, we’ll be attending Friendsgiving at our friends Alex and Kelsey’s house. There will likely be a ridiculous amount of food, far too much wine and hopefully a highly-competitive game of Celebrities afterwards. (I kill at Celebrities. And yes, I’m one of those people when it comes to boardgames. You've been warned.)
I’m thinking I might bring this Celery Root Gratin with Apple and Blue Cheese to dinner. I always feel like serving this dish is cheating a little though, since it’s virtually impossible for guests not to like it. It’s got thinly sliced potato and earthy celery root, bathed in crème fraîche and baked until meltingly tender. There’s apple for a hint of sweetness and blue cheese adds a savory, salty, umami layer. Emerging from the oven golden and bubbling, this gratin is sexy enough to serve as a vegetarian main. And of course, it plays well with turkey and stuffing and especially tart cranberry sauce.
As I type this and think about a Thanksgiving full of friends and games and comfort food, I realize I actually can’t wait for next Thursday. This year, it seems I have a little extra something to be thankful for.
Celery Root Gratin with Apple and Blue Cheese
- 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pound celery root, peeled, halved and sliced ⅛ inch thick
- 1 large russet potato (weighing about 1 lb), peeled, halved and sliced ⅛ inch thick
- 1 large sweet-tart apple, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced ⅛ inch thick
- Coarse salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cups crème fraîche
- 6 ounces blue cheese
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
*Notes: If you haven’t worked with celery root (also called celeriac) before, note that they have a gnarled root end that is almost always full of dirt and will have to be cut off completely. I call for a 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pound celery root to make up for lost root end. Once your celery root is cleaned, it should weigh somewhere between 14 oz and 1 lb. But a gratin is a very accommodating thing; a little more or less celery root, potato or apple won’t hurt anything.
- You can make this in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish if you like. The gratin will be thinner and there will be more of the crispy, golden-brown top to go around. This is an especially good option if you’re going to serve the gratin as part of a holiday buffet for a lot of people. I prefer to make it in a smaller roasting pan (the one pictured measures 8 x 12 inches), which yields thicker slices.
- This dish has always been a crowd-pleaser for me and I’ve had many sworn blue cheese haters ask for seconds. If you’re serving this to anyone who claims to dislike blue cheese (!), I have two recommendations: First, use a mild, creamy and salty blue cheese rather than a dryer, more pungent one. I recommend Fourme d’Ambert or Bleu d’Auvergne. These two French blues are delicious, fairly mild and have the added bonus of being inexpensive as far as cheeses go. A second, sneakier, option is to fail to mention that the gratin contains blue cheese. A lot of people never even realize it's there.
- If you really, REALLY hate blue cheese, just substitute another sharp, salty cheese. Sharp white cheddar or an aged gruyère would be delicious.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and generously butter a medium baking dish or roasting pan. Arrange half of the celery root, potato and apple slices in the pan. For this first layer, you don’t need to arrange the slices very artfully as they won’t be seen, just be sure to distribute them evenly over the bottom so each bite contains some celery root, apple and potato. Generously salt and pepper this layer. Stir the crème fraîche to loosen the consistency then pour half over the top. Spread it to the edges with a flexible spatula, if necessary. Crumble half the blue cheese over the crème fraîche.
For the top layer, neatly arrange the slices of celery root, potato and apple, overlapping them as necessary to fit them in your pan. Generously salt and pepper this layer then cover with the remaining crème fraîche and blue cheese.
Bake the gratin for 20 minutes then cover with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are tender (they take the longest to cook through), about 30 minutes more. Check for doneness with a paring knife; you should feel almost no resistance when you insert the knife into the gratin. Take off the aluminum foil and continue to bake until the top is deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Remove the gratin from the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped chives just before serving.
Makes about 6 servings.