Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And my favorite new vegetable is...

Turnips. What can I say. Maybe its a German thing. After all it's well known that all poor German farmers subsisted on for winters at a time was moldy wheat, turnips and cabbage, enlivened with the occasional hunk of horseradish. Or maybe it wasn't that bad. But a heck of a lot of 'em sure ran straight to Pennsylvania when the opportunity to strike out for fresh country arose. And when they got there...they ate turnips.

My Dad ate his share growing up-yet another common side on the traditional Pennsylvania deutsch table. Mashed with butter and milk, or grated raw into vinegar as a relish, they appeared under many guises.

Despite all this turnip heritage I ignored them at my local farmers' market for years. Until this fall. Inspired by recipes of roasted winter vegetables and with cozy pictures of carrots and parsnips and turnips wafting a delicious fragrance through my kitchen while it sleeted outside, I picked up a bunch of them 2 weeks ago. 6 small turnips, only about 3 ounces each, white as a boiled egg, with a huge bunch of greens on top. Organic, of course. And since they were organic, once I got them home I decided to go for the simplest treatment I could think of. I washed them, leaves and all, making sure to scrub off any clinging dirt. Then I oiled them with olive oil, powdered them with salt and pepper, and lay them in a pan to cook in the oven. About 30 minutes later I sat down to one of the most delicious plates of greens and root vegetables that I have had in years. The sweetness of the turnip root, caramelized from the oven! The delicious umami of the greens! I was hooked.

Probably next week it will be parsnips (I have yet to spy any at the market though), and I certainly am enjoying the crisp and sweet carrots of the season. But for now, The Turnip is King!

Roasted Turnips with Olive Oil
I plan to think up some more elaborate variations on this roasting thing. Try different spices. Try different oils. Try mixing them up with some other vegetables. But for showcasing the turnip, in all its naked glory, this is the way to go. Make sure to get small, sweet turnips. One of those big purple types might be a bit too pungent for this preparation. If in doubt, ask the farmer.

Turnips: about 6 small ones with the greens attached.
Olive oil: about a teaspoon or more if you desire
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Procedure:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly wash the turnips and their attached greens. Scrub the roots til they shine.
2. Take a pan just big enough to hold the whole turnips. Spritz in the olive oil, add the turnips and using your bare hands, coat the turnips in the oil.
3. Shake over the salt, grind over the pepper-to taste. Turn the turnips in the pan to make sure all sides get a good dusting.
4. Place the pan in the oven. Check every 5 minutes or so and turn the turnips as needed so the roots cook evenly and the leaves don't get too crispy (though the crispy bits are good too).
5. Place your turnip on a plate, grab a steak knife and a fork and sit down to dinner. Cut the greens off and into bite sized pieces-pour over a little vinegar of your choice if you so desire. Enjoy!

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