Turnips get a pretty bad rap. They aren’t alone in the category of “maligned vegetables;” we can’t forget Brussels sprouts*, spinach, and beets (and probably others). But over the years I have learned to love pretty much every vegetable – except turnips. That’s not to say I’ve ever really disliked turnips. It’s just that between all the biases about them and the fact that I didn’t have any recipes on how to make them, they never made it onto the list of food I had actually eaten. Well winter is pretty much done here so turnip season is mostly over, but this year I can check turnips off my list. And come winter, I will probably include them often in my rotation of roasted root vegetables.
But this, this is not a stark dish of relatively healthy roasted vegetables. Nope, these turnips are not making going to be making any health food claims but they are more than tasty enough to make up for it. I was a little nervous about what the turnips would be like so I dressed them up with bacon and cream because that makes anything better right? But the flavor of the turnips really shines through and that is what makes this dish worth sharing.
Turnips, if you haven’t had them (and if you haven’t don’t be embarrassed) are a fairly peppery vegetable, not unlike a very mild horseradish in taste, and they also have quite a bit of natural sweetness which provides a kind of natural balance. And adding peppery and sweet to creamy and bacon-y? You end up with something that is not unlike chowder with an extra kick. And I mean that in the best possible way – I was happily sneaking spoonfuls of this out of the pan when Jeff walked up, tried some and said, “This tastes like chowder.” Spot on.
Another kitchen intimidation conquered. What vegetables have you never cooked?
Lightly adapted from Saveur
2 lbs turnips, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
3 ounces (about 3-4 slices) bacon, cut into lardons
½ an onion, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 tsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped**
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp butter
¼ cup heavy cream
Place the chopped turnips in a bowl of water to let some of the bitter flavors leach out and set them aside. Place the bacon in a cold 10-inch sauté pan and place the pan over medium heat.*** When the fat has rendered and the bacon is partly cooked, add the onion and 1 tsp salt and cook until the onion is softened and lightly browned.
Drain the turnips and add them to the pan along with the garlic, bay leaf, thyme, butter, and remaining 1 tsp salt. Cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat or until the turnips are softened and lightly browned. Reduce the heat to low and add the cream. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is reduced and thickened, stirring often to ensure that nothing burns. Serve hot, preferably with rice or noodles to soak up the sauce.
* I was just as surprised as you to learn that Brussels sprout is always a proper noun. It’s named for Brussels, Belgium where the vegetable ostensibly originated. Who knew?
** I often chop garlic rather than pressing it because the final product is less bitter and pungent. When you press garlic you break most of the cell walls which releases the bitter and sharp compounds in the garlic. When you chop the garlic, you break fewer cell walls so the garlic flavor isn’t as marred by the bitterness. An alternative is the pressed the garlic with ¼ teaspoon of salt in the press – salt not only adds flavor but also masks bitter flavors.
***Using a cold pan will allow some of the bacon fat to render out before the pan is at full temperature so you’ll have some grease to use when you get to actually cooking.