As I see it, in the disorganized days that follow the great physical and psychological trial that is Moving House, there are only two acceptable types of eating to do: either abdicating responsibility for health and finances altogether and getting take out for every meal....OR doubling down on both those things with some intensive Francis Mallmann-like (or Babette's Feast-like) cooking in your new kitchen.
Regarding take out, or as the English melodiously call it, take away: if you go this route, what's important in all your eating activities post-move is not lifting so much as a finger to unpack - not even to find utensils (these chopsticks/fingers/rolls of boxing tape will do just fine). Screw top wine is preferable to all other bottles. And, while waiting for your order at the threshold of your new - and possibly new favorite - local eating establishment, it's important you silently pray no one will remember you or the fact you're wearing dusty ripped up leggings and very possibly not a bra under your "work coat."
Yes, the joys and pleasures of take out are obvious - it is literally enchanting to receive a delicious, hot meal packaged into cardboard in twenty minutes or less. But actually cooking is, I think, the best sort of inaugural activity for a hearth one might possibly undertake. Making something (anything) for myself to eat in a new-to-me home somehow revives in a deep, nourishing way, as if in the process of scrambling eggs I am slowly returning order to body and bone.
Anyway, this desire to return to order and to commune with my new home was what brought me this weekend to crack open the newish Ottolenghi cookbook, NOPI, and to prepare the absolute easiest recipe it contains: baked whole celery root.
If you've ever made a recipe from an Ottolenghi cookbook that required three thousand crucial ingredients and fresh organic rose petals as a garnish, you might be rolling your eyes, but this one is blissfully simple. In fact, the whole dish is really less about cooking, and more about casually throwing a root vegetable in the oven with olive oil and salt for three hours. But maybe it's that very simplicity and inexactness that makes this type of cooking feel so essential and real. And what makes it taste that way, too: the root's time in the oven yields a slightly bitter, deeply spicy, and sweet flesh that's soft enough to eat with a spoon, a silky earthiness encased by a gnarled, salty rind that looks like an oyster shell and is just as delicious to scrape up the meat from.
Served in a shallow bowl with buttered, peppered polenta, and - I'm not ashamed to say it - alongside a day-old, half-empty bottle of champagne, the meal has the aspect of a slightly fancy but frugal homesteader. As in, exactly what I'm going for 100% of the time. The added pleasure of not needing to change out of dusty torn-up leggings is just a bonus.
The NOPI cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully is super gorgeous, with gold rimmed pages and inspirational (I mean aspirational) photos - I can only recommend it. Here's the recipe for baked celery root as I followed it - i.e. with very few exactitudes.
- Heat the oven to 190 C.
- Clean the celery root - we sliced off the bottom so it would stand on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Rub olive oil and sea salt on the outside. Let it sit in the oven until it's soft (2 to 3 hours).
- When it's ready (a knife will slice it easily), cut into quarters or so and maybe squeeze some lemon over it and drizzle some olive oil over everything.