I tried out two new recipes on unsuspecting, not-particularly-foodie friends this weekend, and in one case, refused to reveal the main ingredient before the dish was tasted. Why? Turnips, like brussels sprouts, seem to inspire undeserved antipathy. They're delicious raw and cooked, and easy to prepare (save the peeling), but kind of misunderstood, it seems.
I've been eating mine mostly raw, in salads, and they are divine that way. I had some lightly caramelized at a restaurant the other week, and they were good, but I wanted something different. From legendary (and unknown to me until recently, I'm ashamed to say) cook and author Richard Olney, I adapted a fantastic turnip omelet.
Before you wrinkle your nose, let me just say--I know. It's a leap of faith. But in my case, it was rewarded. Deliciously.
Turnip Omelet (adapted from Richard Olney's Simple French Food)
2 bunches baby turnips--enough to give 2-3 cups, packed, after grating
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 t savory (I used dried; fresh seems impossible to find and I don't have it in my garden--yet!)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted oil cured olives, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Grate the turnips--easiest in a Cuisinart. Pile in a bowl and toss with a couple pinches of kosher salt. Toss to mix thoroughly and leave to sit, lightly covered, for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the liquid that's been released as you can.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Heat the butter in a small saute pan--mine was 7 inches. 9 would have worked too; 12 would be too big for these quantities. After it foams, add the turnips, the savory, and a grating of pepper. Cook over low-medium heat until the turnips are tender--15-20 minutes--but don't let them brown. If you need to, turn down the heat. When the turnips are finished, remove them from the heat and allow to cool slightly. (You could do this way ahead of time if you wanted.)
When you're ready to make the omelet, stir the cooled turnips. parsley and olives into the eggs. Wipe out the saute pan and place over medium heat for a minute, then add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, swirl the pan to coat thoroughly with the oil, and add the egg mixture. Cook over medium heat. The bottom will set and the top will still be liquid. At this point, you can put it in the oven to finish, and if you like, you can also call it a frittata. (Finishing will take about ten minutes--watch to see when the top is nicely set and puffy) or you can play at being Olney, and attempt to flip it. This involves loosening the entire omelet--carefully--with a heatproof spatula, and then in a single motion, tossing it up in the air and catching it as it comes down, having neatly reversed itself. I did it this way, and lost part of the bottom layer in the process, but it doesn't really matter. This is divine warm or room temperature or straight from the fridge, if you have leftovers. Serves six as a first course with a bit of salad alongside, two as a lunch with a lot of salad, or one very hungry person who doesn't like to share.
Divine with a good Gruner Veltliner.
Alongside, we made the other root vegetable that seems to make everyone cringe, beets. I hated beets, too, as a kid, and truthfully, I don't love them cooked. Nigella (in that great Forever Summer book) reveals the same prejudice, and suggests we eat them raw. She's right. This is really good, with the lemon and parsley balancing out the sweet and oddly bland flavor of the beets. It is also much better after an overnight marination in the fridge. If you do it that way, add another handful of parsley right before serving.
Raw Beet Salad (adapted from Nigella Lawson)
2 bunches raw beets (about 5 cups, grated
juice of 2 large lemons (or more to taste)
excellent olive oil
freshly grated black pepper
1/2 c chopped flatleaf parsley (or more, if you're going to hold it to serve the next day.)
Peel the beets. Wear rubber gloves, and an apron. Trust me on this. Grate them in a food processor. (If you do it by hand, you will have beet juice, which stains mercilessly, all over your kitchen. Totally not worth it.) Toss the grated beets with the lemon juice, a tablespoon or more of the really good oil, the chopped parsley (reserving a bit to put on top just before serving, to make it look lovely and green) and salt and pepper to taste. That's it.
Mark Bittman in his picnic column this week offered a similar salad, and suggested including some goat cheese. Personally, I don't like it when the goat cheese goes all pink from the beets, but I know that's ridiculous. I might try it with shavings of good parmesan, instead, though.