Turnips are one of the more unsung members of the root vegetable family. Too often, their mere mention makes people crinkle their noses in distaste. “Bitter and strong” are the usual ensuing adjectives.
This is unfair, and I’m here to rectify the injustice. There will be no war, just simple revelation of how delicious the turnip can be!
For starters, thinly slice a small, firm turnip and set a slice atop a piece of buttered bread. Season it with Piment d’Espelette (or your favorite spicy pepper), and some fleur de sel. Garnish with a sprig of herb, and you’ve got a wonderful little appetizer on your hands.
But really, my favorite turnip dish is Turnip Tart. When I was a cooking apprentice in Paris, our chef made this dish for us, and it was a revelation. Richly flavored yet delicate, and sophisticated, it remains one of the most delicious dishes I’ve eaten. It’s very simple – just turnips and cream, really. The chef seasoned it with truffle juice as he brought it from the oven; I grate nutmeg into it right before I put it in to bake. You, undoubtedly, will add your own touch.
But don’t embroider on the recipe too much. The beauty of it, you see, is the turnip. This tart lets its inimitable flavor emerge, to seduce and satisfy.
There is one, simple trick to this recipe. Get fresh turnips. A fresh turnip is hard, its skin glowing. If you see hairline wrinkles on the surface, or if it looks dull or uninteresting in any way, leave that turnip where you found it. The best season for turnips? This depends upon where you live but here in Normandy in March, winter turnips are still gorgeous, and they will be until the end of April when the new crop will appear. Full summer is the only moment I’d not make his tart, knowing as I do that the best turnips are still in the ground at that time.
If you are skeptical, visualize this: my 14-year-old daughter claps her hands with joy when she knows turnip tart is on the dinner menu. If you can delight a teenager with a turnip, you know it’s a good one.
TURNIP AND CREAM TART
TARTE AUX NAVETS A LA CRÈME
One recipe for On Rue Tatin Pastry, or your favorite pâte brisée
2 pounds (1kg) turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Generous ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup (250ml) crème fraîche
1. Make the pastry and let it sit, at room temperature, for 1 hour.
2. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in the bottom half of a steamer. When the water is boiling, add the turnips to the steamer and steam until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the turnips to a cooling rack lined with a cotton towel, to absorb their humidity.
3. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).
4. Roll out the pastry into a round until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Line a 10-1/2 inch (26.5cm), removable bottom tart tin, leaving the edges hanging over.
5. Arrange half the turnips in the tart tin. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and pour over half the cream. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Fold the pastry up and over the turnips. Set the tart tin on a baking sheet, and bake in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden and baked through, 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 minutes, remove the outer ring of the tart tin, and serve.