The best turnips are those that are available fall through spring. When I was at the Farmers’ Market on Sunday they had beautiful bunches of young turnips with their bright green tops and they had some like this one with their tops cut off. When buying topless turnips be sure to feel for firmness and look for freshness where their tops were chopped off. Fresh young turnips have only a mild suggestion of the heat associated with some of their cousins in the mustard family, such as radishes or rocket. The tops of young turnips are tender enough to steam or stir-fry and contain large amounts of vitamin A and especially large amounts of lutein, which has been shown to help prevent cataracts and cardiovascular disease. The turnips themselves are a good low calorie source of vitamin C and fiber.
Turnips can be roasted with other vegetables, such as carrots, celery root, and parsnips, their flavor adding balance. Another great way to prepare them is in a gratin or you can combine them with celery root and potatoes for a mash. Probably the most traditional way to use turnips is in stews and soups like the recipe I posted in November for Turkey pot a feu.
While researching, I came across this nice little recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables, by Alice Waters. It sounded just perfect since I had all the ingredients on hand.
The gratin is rich, creamy and very good. I think I’ll add some garlic next time and there will be a next time for this recipe.
Turnip and Potato Gratin
5 medium Yellow Finn or russet potatoes
10 medium turnips
Salt and pepper
2 cups heavy cream
Peel and slice the potatoes ¼ inch thick, with a knife or on a mandolin, and put them in a bowl of cold water to prevent them from discoloring.
Peel the turnips if their skin is tough and slice them ¼ inch thick. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 12-inch backing dish. Drain the potatoes and pat them dry. Layer the potatoes and turnips alternately in the baking dish, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Pour in enough of the cream, or half and half chicken stock, to barely cover the vegetables. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Rotate the dish for even browning.
Serves 6 to 8
What to shop for at the Farmers’ Market:
Yellow Finn or russet potatoes