Let's play a game. I'll say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your mind, okay? And, since you're not actually here, I'll play for you. Ready?
So how'd I do? I'm guessing my answers were pretty dang close to what yours would be if you were here. And I've gotta say, I'm a little bit disappointed.
Here's the thing. In the world of vegetables, underdog veggies know I've got their back. Lima beans? Love them. Brussels spouts? Aw yeah. Kale? My absolute fave. I adore rutabagas and parsnips and turnips; squash and cabbage and collards. In fact, there's only one vegetable I've ever eaten in my entire life that I haven't been able to cozy up to yet: sorry, bok choy ~ it's me, not you.
What I can't understand is why there's so little love for the turnip. It can't be the taste ~ tender young turnips are so sweet and crunchy and good-for-you-licious. Is it because turnips aren't happy little summer vegetables? Can't be ~ neither are carrots and every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a brown bag is packing some.
Maybe, and I suspect this is the real answer, it's because they're beautiful. Turnips are drop-dead gorgeous in vegetable land. And face it, no one really expects that in a vegetable that spends most of its life underground like a troll. It doesn't seem right. Potatoes aren't lovely. Yams and beets are nothing to swoon over. And don't even get me started on celeriac. Maybe that's all it is . . . a little pigment envy.
Whatever it is, turnips get a bum rap. No one ever says, "Oh, can I get that with a side of turnips?" or "What's your vegetable tonight ~ I hope it's turnips!"
But why not? My friends, turnips are delicious. Earthy, sweet, complex . . . something like the sophisticated lovechild of a carrot and a rutabaga. With a radish in the woodpile.
But don't take my word for it. Go get some turnips for yourself ~ they're in season from about October to March, though you can get them pretty much year-round in most places. They store well in the fridge, but if you have a root cellar (I'm jealous!), they'll keep even longer there.
Pick turnips that look young and unblemished and feel heavy for their size ~ those will be the youngest and most delicious. Avoid any that are withered or wilty-looking, or that have obvious dings, dents, or rot spots. There are many excellant ways to prepare turnips, but whatever you do, don't overcook them. Overcooking intensifies the flavor in a bad way and turns a perfectly delightful vegetable into an odoriferous, unpalatable mush. Really, watch your cook time.
So, how do I like turnips best? Pureed, with horseradish whipped cream. Hea-eh-eh-ven. If you want, you can take the delight a step further: fold a beaten egg and the horseradish cream into the puree, then bake it at 350 degrees F for about half an hour to make an incredibly delicious side dish with a souffle-like texture. Either way, I like to garnish with a bit of cracked pepper or, better yet, chopped fresh chives right before serving.
Be brave, and go pick up some turnips before tomato season is here. If you've never tried them, be brave--do. If you tried them once and gagged on them, try them again, this way (and watch the clock this time!).
Turnip Puree with Horseradish Whipped Cream
Makes about 4 servings
- 2 medium turnips, cleaned, peeled, and diced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 11/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (or more to taste)
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Boil turnip dice in salted water until tender. Remove, drain well, and mash with 1 tablespoon butter.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine cream, horseradish, and salt and pepper. Whip cream mixture using a hand mixer or immersion blender to medium-stiff peaks. Serve a dollop of cream on top of each serving of pureed turnips.
- Beat 1 egg and fold into turnip puree along with 3 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Gently fold in horseradish cream.
- Spray a 1-quart baking dish with nonstick spray and spoon turnip puree into dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned around the edges. Let stand 5 minutes and then serve.