When people ask me for advice on how to become healthier, they often look at me through misty, puppy dog eyes as if they are about to lose their life savings: but do I have to give up pasta? Seems like there are a lot of folks who are very emotionally attached to those ribbons of flour. But answer is, and always will be, no. You don’t have to give up anything you really love to be a healthier person, because I think that deprivation and / or eating with the feeling of guilt is far more detrimental to one’s health than the food itself.
That being said, would you feel better if you ate something else instead? Perhaps. If you treated pasta as something special, to be greatly appreciated once in a while instead of on a nightly basis because there-is-nothing-else-to-eat? Most likely. But I am just here to plant a seed and present an alternative. I rarely eat pasta myself, only because it makes me want to lie down and take a big ol’ nap afterwards, but I will admit how good it is. Because it is. So. Good.
To change things up today, I decided that I would make pasta out of something completely different. Slightly traumatized from the bumper crop of zucchini this summer, I knew I wasn’t getting into squash noodles again, so celeriac took its place. I made celeriac noodles unintentionally for another project I was working on last week. What was supposed to be just a shaved vegetable salad turned into quite the rad discovery: when sliced thinly enough, celeriac becomes pasta! Or something close – let’s face it, nothing besides pasta will ever be pasta. Tender, creamy and with the slightest bit of nuttiness, this will be my autumn go-to for pasta replacements.
Celeriac is that knobby, quite frightening-looking root vegetable that you’ve probably passed by in the store a few times thinking “I have no desire to eat an alien’s baby”. Well, don’t judge a book by its cover; celeriac is delicious, incredibly health-promoting and tastes very much of planet earth.
The water-soluble fiber in celeriac lowers cholesterol and may reduce the risk of heart attack. It is quite low in calories (1 cup contains only 42 calories versus the same amount of potato being 118 calories), and carbohydrates, while maintaining a good amount of fiber and no fat, so it is a prefect food choice for those looking to keep their weight down. It is beneficial to the nervous, lymphatic and urinary systems of the body.
Key nutrients in celeriac include calcium to help maintain the acid/alkaline balance in the blood; iron for oxygen transport; magnesium to sustain bone integrity; and zinc to keep your immune system strong.
Celeriac is also known as celery root, and comes from a celery-like plant of which only the root is palatable. You can of course attempt to nosh on the leafy green stalks if you desire (I sometimes add them to stock), but this vegetable is cultivated specifically for the root alone and the tops most people find inedible. The taste of celeriac is very similar to traditional celery, however there are lovely hints of parsley and walnut in there too. It is delicious cooked, making an excellent replacement for anyone avoiding potatoes due to its creaminess, but you can also enjoy it raw as I’m showing you today.
I can’t exactly remember when I first learned about puttanesca sauce, but it must have been sometime after I met my husband, because before him I hated olives. Now I think they are the yummiest things in the world and I will order anything on a menu with them. Like this sauce – I will definitely order pasta for this sauce. It’s like eating a miracle.
Named after “Italian ladies of the night”, this traditional sauce is spicy, briny and super garlicky. The base is tomatoes, folded into a luscious combination of olive oil, red onion, garlic, capers, olives and chilies – pretty much all that is awesome. It’s really easy to make in a hurry, inexpensive, and deeply flavourful despite the short cooking time. It is the ultimate comfort food for fall and winter, and can be enjoyed folded into whole grains like quinoa or millet, and I bet delicious with a poached egg on toast as well.
Two things needed to be mentioned about this sauce. First, yes, I am using olive oil to cook with. Please note that the temperature of the oil needs to be kept as low as possible so that it does not burn, oxidize, and do more harm in your body than good. I rarely cook with olive oil as you may know, but I make an exception for this sauce and just ensure that it doesn’t get too hot. Second, please purchase good-quality olives with the pits still inside – it’s well worth it. Pitted olive have a pretty lousy texture and flavour, so splurge a bit, pit the olives yourself and you’ll notice a big difference.
Celeriac Pasta with Puttanesca Sauce
1 lb. / 500g celeriac
1. Slice off the knobby exterior of the celeriac – this may leave you with only ¾ of the original vegetable. Slice the root into half-inch (1.25cm) sections. Using a mandoline slicer, run the celeriac slices lengthwise to create ribbons. I recommend a 1mm thickness.
2. Place celeriac ribbons in a large bowl and toss with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside until ready to use.
¼ cup /60ml high-quality olive oil
2 small red onions, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. crushed chili flakes (more or less according to taste)
2 cans (14oz/400g) organic crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. capers, plus more for garnish
5 oz. /150g high-quality black olives / 1 cup (purchase them with pits. I like Kalamata olives best), plus more for garnish
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
a couple pinches of salt, to taste
caper berries for garnish (optional)
flat-leaf parsley for garnish
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on low heat. Add the crushed chili flakes and let steep as the oil warms up. When the oil is hot add the garlic and let fry gently for 1-2 minutes, then add the onion and cook until translucent, 5 minutes or so. Watch that the oil doesn’t get too hot – use a thermometer if needed and remove it from the burner if necessary (olive burns around 320°F / 160°C).
2. While the onions are cooking, pit the olives by lining several up on a cutting board and smashing them with the flat side of a knife blade. The pits are now easily removed. Roughly chop once or twice.
3. Add the remaining ingredients to the oil, stir well, and cover to simmer for as long as you have (minimum 10 minutes). If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little water until the desired consistency is reached.
4. Place desired servings of celeriac pasta in each bowl. Serve with the hot sauce on top, and garnish with a few extra olives, capers and caper berries. Drizzle with olive oil and chopped parsley. Enjoy.