I steamed and sautéed baby turnips last night for dinner, then served them atop a bed of bay-scented quinoa. It wasn’t a festival of colors, though the minced chives helped, but oh was it delicious!
You may wonder what inspired such a meal. Part of it is my newly vegetarian daughter. The other part is shoulder season, that long moment between winter and real spring when one either eats the last of the winter vegetables or…a big plate of steamed and sautéed baby turnips.
I know I’m not the only cook who suffers at this time of year, suffering being a relative term. There is no danger of going hungry; I’m discussing an “uptown” problem called paucity of choice. I noticed it the other day at a wonderful little restaurant in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, Pantruche. Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and gratifyingly generous and well prepared. There was, however, an abundance of frothy beet foam. I saw it again at Tartarin, in Le Havre, a starred spot that attracts from far and wide. There, little quenelles of avocado decorating dishes alerted me to the chef’s own shoulder season dilemma.
What these in-between, or shoulder seasons teach us cooks is to be ultra-creative; when we’re devoted to local and seasonal ingredients, we repeat ourselves, we reach beyond the boundaries and – oh no – break the rules. I admit I could never restrict myself to one hundred percent local all the time. I love lemons, coffee, chocolate, avocados, sea vegetables, and that heavenly Iberico ham. I love olive oil from Tuscany and Puglia, new garlic from Provence, smoked salmon from Ireland, a ripe little green mango from Cameroun (at least it arrived by boat).
I figure that it’s a case of “doing the best I can” while titillating the taste buds – my own and those around me. I’d love to hear what you think.
A WINTER/SPRING DISH
Despite the beauty of a raw, spring turnip, that lovely purple hue turns muddy when they are cooked, so I peel them. It’s up to you, the peel is tender and sweet.
1 cup quinoa, well-rinsed
1 fresh bay leaf (laurus nobilis)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 pound baby turnips, trimmed, and peeled (or well-rinsed if not peeling)
2 tablespoons extras-virgin olive oil or goose, or duck fat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper or hot pepper (I like Voatsiperify black pepper)
1 bunch chives
Fleur de sel
1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the quinoa, add the bay leaf and the salt, reduce the heat to medium so the water is simmering merrily, cover, and cook the quinoa for 12 minutes. Remove it from the heat, leave it covered, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
2. Bring 3 cups water to a boil over high heat in the bottom of a steamer. Add the turnips, cover, and steam until they are nearly tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the turnips to a tea-towel, so they can steam dry.
3. Heat the oil or fat in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is fat but not smoking, add the turnips and saute them until they are golden on the outside, 5 to 7 minutes. Season them generously with salt and pepper.
4. Remove the bay leaf from the quinoa. To serve, put about 3/4 cup quinoa in the center of four plates, and slightly flatten it without pressing on it. Divide the turnips among the quinoa, placing them on top.
5. Mince the chives, sprinkle them over the turnips, sprinkle with fleur de sel and a bit more pepper if desired, and serve immediately.
4 side or first course dishes