(Guest Spin and Photos by Umut Newbury, Lawrence, Kansas)
Turnips are cheap. And tasty. And because of this they started making a comeback a few years ago as a go-to vegetable for the unemployed and otherwise frugally minded. It’s a wonderful root vegetable, but when it comes to root vegetables, most people would rather stay in the comfort zone of potatoes and carrots. Even carrots (outside of being a scant ingredient in chicken noodle soup) are sometimes pushing it in mainstream American food culture.
So, what of the other poor, unpopular cousins of the root vegetable world, like turnips, beets, or kohlrabi? Even when they show up in traditional grocery stores, early spring farmers markets, or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery boxes of well-meaning healthy eaters, they usually end up in the compost pile. Why? Most people have no idea what to do with them. That’s a shame because turnips and other root vegetables, when harvested in their prime, are crisp, tender and delicious; and could be turned into a number of economical and hearty family-pleasing dishes. And even when they have been out of the ground for awhile, they can be a very delicious and economical addition to all manner of casseroles, soups, and other cold-season kitchen creations.
This is why I was thrilled to receive a small bag of turnips as a gift from a friendly organic farmer, Stephanie Thomas of Spring Creek Farm in Baldwin, Kansas, last week. Here in the Heartland (even with the unusually warm winter we’ve been experiencing) colorful, fresh, local vegetables have been unavailable since before Thanksgiving. There may have been a few winter squashes and sweet potatoes left over from the end of the growing season, but for the most part, local produce in December and January amounts to exotic greens at best. So, any produce that can turn into something other than a salad is more appreciated in the dead of winter, especially if it can save me money.
Turnips are great raw for those with an open mind and palate. You can slice them and minimally season them for a great snack or grate them to use in salads, along with carrots. But, if you want to win the hearts and minds of skeptical turnip eaters everywhere, the surest way to accomplish this is by way of the awesome gratin. This recipe originally appeared in Gourmet magazine, but is very versatile and forgiving; I adapted it to conform to what happened to be in my pantry at the time. This is another way to save money: use what you have on hand! And you can have a hot meal on the table in about 45 minutes, with about 10 minutes of actual hands-on time on your part.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 1/2 pounds turnips, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon sage
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream (or Alfredo sauce, or milk, or whatever you happen to have on hand)
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (This amount can be decreased as calories and budget allow…it’s still tasty even with minimal cheese!)
Here’s our Spin on this recipe: Preheat oven to 450F. Thinly slice the turnips. Butter a round baking dish and arrange turnip slices in a circle, tightly overlapping each slice. Pour half of the cream (in this particular case, we were out of cream and substituted Alfredo sauce), the cheese and the spices (we were also out of sage, so we increased the thyme and cayenne) over the turnips. Repeat layers. Bake for 10 minutes at 450F. Reduce oven temperature to 400F and continue baking for another half an hour until the gratin is bubbly and nice and golden on top. (For the carnivores, we’re pretty sure a sprinkling of bacon on top would be an added bonus!) Cool for 10-15 minutes and enjoy!
The original directions from Gourmet say: “Preheat oven to 450F. Melt butter in an ovenproof 12-inch skillet. Slice turnips, arrange in a thin layer, overlapping. Sprinkle 1/3 (to ½) of spices and cheese. Repeat layers, cook for 10 minutes. Add cream, cook for 20 minutes. Bake for 10-15 minutes.”