Thursday, February 12, 2009

Winter Turnips

I went to the winter farmer’s market in Norwich this past weekend, ostensibly to purchase a whole, untrimmed, beef tenderloin from Ray William’s of Back Beyond Farm ( . I was pleased to find some baby chickens under 3 lbs. each which I got from Nancy LaRowe of Hogwash Farm ( For winter vegetables, I found some lovely purple-topped turnips, baby beets and multi-colored fingerling potatoes from Your Farm ( in Fairlee.

Now turnips, a root vegetable, are under consumed in many households, probably due to their sulfury taste, which predominates in the “winter” turnip. Summer turnips, which come with their greens attached, are milder in flavor and can be eaten raw, grated or lightly simmered or sauted. Look for these all white turnips in the spring when they are sweet and flavorful and go well in salads with a drop of lemon.

The purple-topped winter turnip, Brassica rapa, has been around for 4,000 years or more, coming from Eurasia. The rutabaga is a large turnip that is a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. Brassica napobrassica is also known as swede, yellow turnip, and “waxed turnip” as it is sometimes sold with a wax covering to preserve its freshness. Rutabagas can be roasted or served raw cut into fine julienne in a salad. It is frequently combined with cooked potato and/or carrots into a mash to accompany a roast.

The turnip is wonderful when it absorbs butter or meat fat, and is particularly delicious when finished in a stew or braised dish, or in the bottom of a roasting pan with the meat juices from the accompanying roast. Most cooks suggest peeling the turnip just before cooking to prevent discoloration of the flesh through oxidation, but I like to leave the skin on in some applications, unless I am using a rutabaga, which I always peel.

The turnip is rich in Vitamin C, however the greens have lots of Vitamin A, C & K as well as folate and calcium, so cook them when available and enjoy their slightly mustard flavor.

In most instances with the purple-topped turnip, the bulbous taproot is blanched in salted water to remove some of its stronger flavor before being braised in butter or meat fat, or baked into a gratin, which is a common side dish to pork, sausages, ham, goose or duck. We like to quarter unpeeled turnips and include them with other winter vegetables like potato, parsnip, peeled winter squash, carrots, beets and the like to roast with olive oil, salt and pepper in a hot oven until tender.

One note of caution: turnips that are cooked too long become mushy and an overcooked cabbage flavor develops, contributing to their lack of popularity amongst many eaters. So treat your turnips right and you will find them sweet and flavorful, and they bring an inexpensive side dish to your supper table.

Winter Turnips Braised in Butter

1 lb. purple top turnips, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons of butter
3/4 to 1 cup chicken stock or water
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice
fresh parsley, minced

Cover the quartered turnips with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, or until they are partially tender. Drain in a colander.

Place blanched turnips in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the chicken stock to just cover. Season lightly, cover and boil slowly until they are tender, 20 minutes or so. If the liquid has not cooked off, uncover the cook it off.

Just before serving, toss the hot turnips with the rest of the butter, a few drops of lemon juice, the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Gratin of Turnip

2 lbs. purple topped turnips
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Salt & pepper, to taste
Nutmeg, fresh grated, to taste...pinch
4 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
3 oz bread crumbs, fresh
5 tbl butter

Peel the turnips and slice 1/8" thick using a mandoline. Put the milk into a skillet, add the sliced potatoes and bring the milk to the boil. Simmer the potatoes 3 or 4 minutes to parcook. Add the cream, bring back to the simmer, remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Butter a gratin dish and layer the potatoes slightly overlapping. Sprinkle each layer with a bit of each of the cheeses. Make 3 or 4 layers, pouring any left over liquid all around before finishing the top with the last of the cheese. Spread the fresh breadcrumbs over the top, dot with the butter and bake in a 325 degree oven, lightly covered with aluminum foil, until cooked through, 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Remove the cover, the turnips should have absorbed all the liquid. Turn oven up to 400 degrees and cook until breadcrumbs are toasty golden and a slight crust has formed.

Remove from oven and let rest at least 15 minutes, uncovered, before slicing.

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