My grandmother cooked turnips the British way, mashed with a lot of butter and a sprinkling of sugar, ground pepper and salt, often running them under the broiler to create a thin caramel crust.
Lighter than mashed potatoes with a slight bitter edge, they were the dish I asked for when I visited from college. How did turnips ever get such a bad rap?
Turnips prefer the cooler shoulders of our growing season. When harvested in the spring and summer, they are delicate and crisp and great when chopped for salads and quick stir-fries. But later, the roots are larger and thicker-skinned. These turnips can be moss green, or golden, or pale white with lavender shoulders.
Of all the varieties, the golden turnips seem to be sweetest, with fine-grained flesh the color of pale butter. Turnips are always delicious mashed with butter; they also do well with a splash of sherry or a dash of horseradish. Added to a stew or soup, turnips provide a balance to the sweetness of carrots. Their lighter texture and slightly bitter flavor make them a fine companion to rich dishes of pork, lamb and game.
Fresh turnips don’t need much preparation. Our wintry turnips can be challenging, however, sometimes tough and spicy hot. These need to be peeled thickly, cut into wedges and parboiled in salted water for several minutes before adding to another dish or a braise. They are worth the trouble. This old-fashioned vegetable does very well in this modern kitchen.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.