Here is my way to snick in a healthy vegetable to everybody’s favorite rich comfort food dish. Simmering in milk brings the very best out of celery root, giving this silky puree a flavor that's both mellow and full, which also blends in perfectly to the Fontina cheese sauce.
Parsnips or Turnips could be used in the puree instead of Celery Root. —Kukla
4 to 6
• 8 oz dry Rigatoni pasta
• 4 cups whole milk, divided
• 2 cups water
• coarse salt to taste
• 1 large celery root (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, cut into 2-inch cubes
• 1 small onion or 2 shallots, diced
• 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces
• 2 tablespoons flour
• About 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• Ground white pepper
• 1 teaspoon Herb de Provence
• 1 1/2 cups Italian Fontina Cheese, shredded on the large side of grater
Bring 2 cups milk, water and salt just to boil in heavy saucepan over high heat. Add celery root cubes; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, discard cooking liquid.
Combine celery root and 2 tablespoons butter in a food processor; puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Transfer puree to bowl, grate the nutmeg over it and mix in. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a pan, add Herb de Provence, sauté for 2 minutes and then add diced onion.
Sauté until softened and just start to brown; sift the flour directly over the butter; stir to make a smooth paste and cook out the raw flour taste (about 3 minutes). Slowly add remaining 2 cups milk.
Simmer on a low heat stirring or whisking all the time until sauce thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove sauce from the stove, add the Fontina cheese.
Add the pureed celery root; stir quickly and well. Keep warm.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. F. Butter a casserole or glass baking dish.
Cook Rigatoni al dente, in a large pot of boiling, salted water.
Drain and immediately add to the cheese and celery root mixture. Mix well and then pour into prepared baking dish. Spread evenly, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Panko bread crumbs.
Dot with pieces of the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. (At this point, you might cool the whole dish, then chill it and bake it later or even freeze up to 3-4 days).
When ready to bake; place on the middle rack of the oven; bake for about 45minutes until bubbly and the top is golden brown. Serve hot.