From A.W., 28 April 2012, turnips – what to do with spring bounty?

Q: Turnips. Those will be harvested in about a month, and I love to hand out good recipes with the produce. Any good turnip recipes that are easy enough for your average mom of 3 kids to whip up?

A: Hi, and thanks for your question!

Turnips are cursed with the “root vegetable” moniker, meaning that no one gets all that excited about cooking or eating them. This reputation for boredom is totally undeserved – turnips are delicious and can assume a variety of guises. Their distinctive flavor includes sweetness, some bitterness, and as an earthy pungency that varies from mild in baby spring turnips to fairly strong in larger autumn roots.

For some reason, turnips (like other white vegetables such as cauliflower) often are touted as a “more healthful alternative” to potatoes, to which they bear little resemblance. Although both are primarily carbohydrate- and water-based, potatoes are starchy; turnips are not. Think about what happens to the flesh of a potato when you boil or roast it; the starch grains swell, becoming somewhat bulky and either dense or fluffy. The same cannot be said of a turnip, which, when roasted, becomes soft but not fluffy, and shrinks as the water evaporates; when boiled, the turnip becomes waterlogged and fibrous. So think about trying something other than boiling and mashing the turnip, like one of these easy recipes.

Roasted turnips

Roasting turnips brings out their natural sweetness and is the easiest way to prepare this vegetable. As turnips are mainly water, they will shrink quite a bit during roasting, so don’t be alarmed at the volume of turnips you have to prepare.

If you eat meat, use bacon fat, pork fat, or duck fat to roast the turnips. They are a classic accompaniment to roast duck; try with roast pork or chicken, or pork chops.

2 lb small turnips (about 2” in diameter or less), peeled and quartered lengthwise
4 tbsp vegetable-based oil (like canola or grapeseed), bacon fat or duck fat
kosher salt and pepper

Oven 400F/204C.

In a roasting pan, toss the sliced turnips in the fat. Sprinkle with salt. Place in the hot oven.

After about 10 minutes (maybe fewer if your turnip quarters are small), turn the turnips, using a wooden spoon, and return to the oven. Continue to roast until light golden; turn again to brown evenly top and bottom.

Once golden, remove from the oven. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Turnip greens

Don’t waste the leaves! Blanching the leaves before cooking may seem an unnecessary extra step, but turnip leaves can be bitter ahd the initial blanching helps tone that down. So does the addition of hot pepper vinegar just before eating.

1 lb turnip leaves, washed well of sand and grit, and roughly chopped
1/4 lb country ham (cut into batons more or less 1/4″ x 1″), 1 smoked ham hock, 1 smoked pork hock, or 1 smoked turkey neck or 2 wings
salt and pepper
Hot pepper vinegar

Bring one large pot of water to a rolling boil and, when boiling, add the chopped turnip greens to one pot. Blanch for 2 minutes and then drain.

Add about 2 1/2 c water to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Return the greens to the pot and add the country ham. Simmer until the leaves are tender and no longer bright green; when you taste them, they should be mild. Drain, reserving the liquid to eat with cornbread. Season the greens and ham with salt and pepper to taste and serve with the hot pepper vinegar. You will use more salt if you chose a different meat than country ham, which is salted.

Spicy pickled turnips

As you know, we can pickle just about anything. And pickled turnips are great. They remind me of the pickled mu radish I’ve had in Korean restaurants, only with some spice and heat. They’re crisp, tart, sweet, and hot, and I highly recommend you try them on a burger or with a grilled sausage this summer.

1 c rice vinegar (substitute cider vinegar)
1 c water
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp coriander seed
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp red chile flakes
2 whole chile de arbol or another long, red, dried chile
1 medium turnip (about 3” in diameter), peeled

Bring the pickling ingredients (everything but the turnips) to a simmer. Stir well until the salt and sugar dissolve; turn off the heat and steep, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the turnips crosswise very thinly (slightly less than 1/8” or 3 mm) on a mandoline (you also can use the slicing blade of a food processor; they may not come out as thin). Stack in a sterilized glass jar and pour the hot pickling liquid over. Store, refrigerated, for at least 8 hours before eating; these will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

Turnip soup

As with pickling, nearly any vegetable can transform into soup. Definitely use the cheese rind – you can substitute the rind of another hard grating cheese, or even something like an aged Gouda, Beemster, Parrano, etc if those are more readily available to you. If you go that route, be sure to remove any wax on the rind.

If you can find Golden Ball heirloom turnips, use them here – they make a really pretty yellow soup.

2 lbs turnips, small to medium (2” to 3” in diameter), peeled and quartered lengthwise
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided, or 2 tbsp duck or bacon fat and 2 tbsp butter
1 large onions, sliced thinly pole to pole
2 cloves fresh garlic or 6 cloves garlic confit
1 3” long rind Rarmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 c chicken or white veal stock [substitute vegetable stock or water if you do not eat meat]
2 c water
¼ c heavy cream
White pepper
1 fresh or one dried bay leaves
About 4 branches thyme

Place a sauce pot over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp butter or duck fat. Once the butter foams, add the onions and reduce the heat. Sweat the onions until tender and translucent; add the whole garlic cloves or confit, bay leaves and thyme, and sweat another 5 minutes. Add the stock and 1c water; once it comes to a simmer, add the cheese rind and the turnips, and cover. Cook until the turnips are tender; drain and set aside.

Remove the herbs and transfer to a blender/vitaprep. Purée until smooth and add the cream and the remaining 2 tbsp butter; puree again. Thin with water if necessary to a soup consistency; it should not feel thick like a sauce. Season with salt and white pepper.

Crumbled bacon, diced ham, and/or minced herbs like thyme and parsley make an excellent garnish.

Creamed turnips

Soubise – an onion-based sauce – is a good base for this delicate turnip dish, being less heavy than the more traditional flour-thickened béchamel. It sounds fancy, right, but don’t be afraid – it’s just a purée of onions and rice, simmered down until they’re really tender. Rice provides thickening, so if you have issues with gluten and avoid flour-thickened cream sauces for that reason, you can eat this. Using fresh herbs makes all the difference, so be sure not to omit them.

1 ½ lbs small turnips (about 2” in diameter or less), peeled and quartered lengthwise
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large onions, sliced thinly pole to pole (that is, from blossom end to stem end)
½ c long-grain white rice
3 c chicken stock [substitute vegetable stock or water if you do not eat meat]
¼ c heavy cream
White pepper
2 fresh or one dried bay leaves
About 6 branches thyme
¼ c flat-leaf parsley, washed and spun dry

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and, when boiling, add the turnips and reduce to a simmer. Cook until just barely tender; drain and set aside.

While the turnips cook, place a large sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Once the butter foams, add the onions and reduce the heat. Sweat the onions until tender and translucent; do not brown. This may take some time, but as long as your heat is low, you need only stir from time to time. Add the rice and the stock; add the bay leaves and about 4 branches thyme. Cover and cook until the rice is soft (not just tender-edible, but soft).

Remove the herbs and transfer to a blender/vitaprep. Purée until smooth and add the cream; purée again. Season with salt and white pepper.

Mince the parsley and the remaining thyme (leaves only, of course).

Combine the turnips with the soubise. Return to low heat if necessary and stir frequently to heat the turnips. Turn out into a serving bowl and garnish with minced parsley and thyme.

3 thoughts on “Turnips.

  1. Pingback: Turnips. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. A few years back I got so many damn turnips in my CSA, that I was forced to get to know them better. I remember making one recipe using the greens and cooking them like you suggest but also including the roots and eating them over grits. Damn tasty. Great suggestions for a tough veggie, Wendy.

    • Thanks! I’ve always liked turnips, even as a kid (my mom used to simmer them into a clear pork bone broth). Working with them is fun as long as they aren’t too large and too mustardy … then it’s pickling time as far as I’m concerned.

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