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Today: A creamy root vegetable puree without the heft.
To make a lush root vegetable puree without loads of cream and butter, just throw in some rice. There, I said it.
It sounds like one of the more joyless weight loss tricks -- and if you're catering to that crowd, this will play well -- but it doesn't come from a place of deprivation. It's a technique created by Michel Guérard, a French chef and author who's held three Michelin stars since 1977.
We know one way French chefs make a supple mash is to keep adding more butter. In Joël Robuchon's famous potato puree, he aspires to a ratio of 1 part butter to 2 parts potato (or, by some accounts, equal parts), which has got to be supernaturally good. I aspire to eat it.
But after the slabs of roast beef and other riches of holiday meals -- not to mention the many days of cookies that preceded -- that much butterfat may send your holiday spirits toppling over the edge.
On the flip side, Guérard is credited with inventing the breezier cuisine minceur, a spinoff of the nouvelle cuisine of the '60s that lightened the dishes while also heightening flavor. (His signature dish is chicken stuffed with fromage blanc -- a far cry from American spa food.)
Indeed, he explains in La Cuisine Gourmande that a small amount of rice amps up the creaminess in a puree, while ensuring that none of the flavor of the vegetable -- in this case, celeriac -- is lost.
Alexandra Stafford of the blog Alexandra Cooks, who tipped me off to the technique, says it also works well with any surly, fibrous root, and is especially delicious with turnips.
The word technique might be implying too much. Really you're just simmering chunks of root in milk with rice, then blending with a finishing swirl of cream. It looks like a savory, sloshy rice pudding, then whips up into sweet, milky clouds.
I recommend this as a bed for winey braised short ribs or lamb shanks, for roasted chickens and more exotic birds too. For the vegetarians: mushroom bourguignon.
None of it will come up lacking in holiday grandeur, nor will it keep you from enjoying a full serving (or two) of the Bûche de Noël.
Michel Guérard's Celeriac Puree
Recipe adapted very slightly from La Cuisine Gourmande (William Morrow & Company, 1979)
Makes 4 servings
3/4 pound celeriac (celery root)
1 quart milk
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup rice
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom (except Michel Guérard by Maurice Rougemont/Gamma-Rapho for The Guardian)