Looks aren't everything. Twisted in form and sickly pale in color, the Celeriac would never win a beauty contest, but the mild aniseed aroma from it's fresh cut slices that are then transformed further by slow baking in a mixture of garlic infused cream, thyme, chicken stock, and parmesan elevate this ugly knob to lofty levels of tasty grandeur and provide a warm, comforting and delicious dish. Perfect for a cold wintery evening.
Put 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of chicken stock in a small saucepan with a big teaspoon of salt, a couple of grinds of pepper, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme and 2 large cloves of raw garlic, sliced into a few pieces. Bring gently to the boil, then shut off the heat and let garlic and herbs steep in the cream for 10 minutes. Meanwhile thinly slice up one whole large celeriac (who's outer skin has been carefully trimmed off). Put a tablespoon of oil in a heavy based saucepan and turn up the heat to medium/high. Place one layer of the thin celeriac slices into the oil and let it gently fry. Meanwhile build up the whole pan layer by layer until the celeriac slices are all used up. The bottom layer will be turning golden brown at this point, so shut off the heat. Pour the infused heavy cream mixture over the celeriac slices till it just covers the top layer. Mix together a quarter cup of finely grated parmesan with 3 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs and scatter over the top. Swirl some oil over the breadcrumb mixture and pop the entire pan in the oven at 325 degrees for 1 hour.
Note: Using fresh breadcrumbs makes a huge difference. For the picture above, I ran out of fresh crumbs and had to use a can of processed breadcrumbs. This is Ok but the dish will definitely taste better with fresh crumbs. (I find the processed crumbs are ground too finely, so they don't really give you the proper crunchy topping)
Serving suggestion: Serve with a slab of warm smoked ham and some slow roasted brussel sprouts.
Wine Pairing: Justin Chearno, wine guru at UVA WINES says "If I was having the gratin alone, I'd have a white wine like the Pabiot Pouilly Fume" but if you do it with the smoked ham, I'd go with Philippe Faury, Syrah from the Northern Rhone region. The wine's texture is rich and silky, but there is the acidity that you need for the creamy gratin and the classic Syrah notes of smoky bacon that will made the smoked ham even pork-ier"