At first sight, a humble, awkward looking root vegetable with all that wrinkled, knobbly skin is not exactly the most attractive ingredient to behold, but looks can often be deceiving as underneath there hides a wonderful, velvety texture and loads of robust-sweet flavours just waiting to be released.

Root vegetables are the perfect winter food, and the cold weather is partly responsible for their delicious flavour as the cold helps to turn their starches into sugars. They are as useful in the kitchen as potatoes as they can be mashed, roasted or layered in gratins as well as deep-fried, either as chips or wafer-thin crisps. They make superb soups, especially when combined with apple, crème fraîche and spices to counteract their sweetness.

My favourite unsung hero of the vegetable world is the knobbly, odd- shaped celeriac. If ever there was an underdog of the vegetable world it's probably this one. By appearance alone, celeriac looks neither easy to work with nor enjoyable to taste and unfortunately its often overlooked on supermarket shelves. But celeriac is actually pretty special. It has a wonderfully subtle, celery-like flavour, with nutty overtones. Raw celeriac has fantastic crunch that makes it perfect for salads and slaws but when roasted or baked in a salt crust…it’s a true revelation!

I actually dispute its description as “the ugly one” and find its wrinkly, ivory skin, warts and freckles of brown rather beautiful and alluring. When choosing your celeriac try to go for roots that are less than four inches diameter, as the smaller, younger roots tend to be much more tender and less woody. Peeled celeriac will darken so toss it in lemon juice or add a little juice to the cooking water. If you look beyond the spiny roots and ugly skins of most root vegetables, you’ll find a host of rich, subtle flavours that, for me at least, make these ugly ducklings the star attractions of autumn market stalls.

Whole roasted celeriac with olive oil, lemon & Za’atar

Nothing could be easier than this technique for cooking celeriac and absolutely nothing gets wasted!

Ingredients serves 4

2 medium celeriac’s, about 800g each
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
a few thyme sprigs
3-4 crushed garlic cloves
100ml olive oil
4tsp za’atar*
Juice of 2 lemons
Lemon wedges to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 200˚C/Gas 5.

2. Wash the celeriac well to remove any dirt and pat dry with kitchen paper or leave to air dry.

3. Place the celeriacs on a large sheet of foil on a baking tray. Rub them all over with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with sea salt and add a few thyme sprigs and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Wrap them tightly in foil to seal them.

4. Roast for 2 hours, then unwrap the foil from the top and roast for a further 20-30 minutes, so the skin crisps up a little and the flesh is soft and tender inside.

5. To serve, slice off the top of the celeriac’s and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Scatter liberally with za’atar and serve with lemon wedges, extra olive oil, za’atar and salt so everyone can add more as they eat their way through their celeriacs.

*za’atar is an incredibly versatile middle eastern spice blend and a fantastic ingredient to have kicking around your kitchen. It is made by grinding hyssop leaves to a coarse, aromatic powder and then mixed with toasted sesame seeds and sumac. If you can't get hyssop, substitute with thyme or oregano.

CELERIAC, TRUFFLE, SMOKED BACON & THYME SOUP

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The great French Chef Auguste Escoffier said, "Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite", while Beethoven claimed "Only the pure of heart can make good soup". One thing’s for sure – freshly made soups rarely get the attention they deserve, but this delicious soup, with celeriac, smoked bacon, thyme and truffles, leaves everyone wanting more!

Ingredients serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
50g smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
1 leek, white only, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
700g celeriac, peeled and diced
800ml chicken stock (bouillon)
200ml cream
2 tsp chopped chives
Sea salt and white pepper
Fresh truffle slices or a few drops of truffle oil, to garnish

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a low- medium heat, add the onion, bacon and leek and cook, stirring, for 2–3 minutes, until softened but not coloured.

2. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another 30 seconds, then add the celeriac (celery root) and stock (bouillon) and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Add the cream and then blend to a smooth purée with a hand-held (immersion) blender or in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and white pepper, then pass through a fine sieve.

4. Ladle into soup bowls, scatter with chopped chives and sliced truffle or drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil. Serve immediately.

Roasted celeriac chips

Ingredients serves 4

1 large celeriac
3-4 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp mild curry powder
Seasoning

1. Pre-heat your oven to 200C.

2. To peel the celeriac; slice off the top and bottom stand the celeriac on a chopping board. Cut away the tough skin down the sides with a heavy, sharp knife and then cut the celeriac into thumb-thick slices and then into fat chips.

3. Bring a very large saucepan of salted water to the boil, and blanch (boil rapidly, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes) the chips.

4. Drain the chips well and place into a large. Add the oil, curry powder and salt and pepper. Toss until well coated.

5. Spread the chips over a large heavy baking sheet, leaving plenty of space in between. Cook them in the oven for about 30-35 minutes and serve immediately.