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Celeriac and truffles

It was truffle season in the South-Westand the day was freezing cold. I had woken to a thin covering of ice on the ground and grass that crackled when I trod on it. It took heavy jackets and thick pants to keep warm. My partner and I woke early to start preparing a feast to celebrate the wedding of friends. They had invited just 10 people to their exclusive banquet and wanted, naturally, for everything to be perfect. It was our task to ensure that the atmosphere, the ambiance and of course the food were in keeping with the occasion.

The venue was romantic; by a lake in a setting of tall trees. The table overlooked the lake and was surrounded by open fires for warmth and light as the feast was to be held at twilight, when the mist floated over the water. Spotlights in the trees provided a magical backdrop.

A spectacular menu could only complement such a dramatic scene.

Truffles were high on the agenda and the couple requested that each course feature a distinctive method of presenting these black, misshapen globes of precious underground fungi. We served chicken breasts stuffed with truffle mousse to contrast with the crispiness of the chicken skins. Brussels sprouts, lightly stir-fried with crunchy chestnuts, were strewn with grated truffles, and a bowl of truffle sauce covered steamed egg yolks. The most exciting and memorable dish was a salt-crusted baked celeriac. Celeriac is yet to make a mark on the tastebuds of most Australians. It is an ugly root vegetable, not dissimilar to a large turnip but with a knobbly surface and of a light brown colour. It is a type of celery but grown for its bulbous roots only. It has a nutty flavour and is perfect with truffles.

Celeriac drawing

To take advantage of the atmosphere and the cold, crisp night, we decided on this dish to give an element of surprise and even a little drama. I peeled the skin from the celeriac and trimmed its crown of short stems and leaves. We had made a thick puree from an overly generous amount of truffles mixed with grape-seed oil and water. We covered the celeriac with the puree and then prepared the coating. We mixed flour with water and handfuls of coarse salt to make a thick paste to coat the entire surface of the celeriac to protect it and the truffles from the intense heat of the open-fired oven.

The appearance of the celeriac at this stage belied the chemistry happening under its grubby white covering. But slowly the majestic smells of two incredible ingredients drifted toward the wedding table. Unable to resist, the wedding party joined us in watching the flames transform this ugly vegetable, and even uglier fungi, into a combination of the most majestic of all smells and tastes.

And so it was that the celeriac and the truffle were transformed into the King and Queen of the wedding feast.

Carolynne Troy