Yesterday I wrote about turnips and it made me think of an old folk tale about a man who plants a turnip but it grows so enormous he can’t get it out of the ground. So he asks his wife to help and still they can’t pull it out. And then they get their grandson, then the dog — the cat — and they all pull together and still nothing — and so on with helpers — a hen, pig, rooster and so on, until finally, a little bird comes along and they all pull at the turnip and it comes out of the earth and of course the little bird thinks he is the hero.
My children loved this story and now it’s a favorite of the grandkids.
That doesn’t mean turnips are their favorites though.
It’s hard enough to convince grown ups to try turnips. Almost impossible when it comes to kids.
But honestly, if you buy the right kind of turnip you can cook a lot of terrific side dishes all winter. And these go perfectly with roasts and baked fish and vegetarian dinners.
The point about turnips is to buy the smallest ones because they’re more delicate. Huge oversized turnips like the one in the folk tale can be as bitter and harsh as a cranky relative.
Turnips are kin to cabbage and broccoli. These vegetables also used to get a bad rap but everyone eats them nowadays. Rutabagas are also turnip cousins and, in fact, you can substitute rutabagas, which are milder than white turnips, (they’re often called “yellow turnips” or “Swedes”) in most turnip recipes. Like this lovely, rich rutabaga and potato casserole, an old Welsh recipe.
1 pound diced peeled rutabaga
1 pound diced peeled all-purpose potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dairy sour cream, plain yogurt or buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rutabaga and potato dice in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Drain the pan and mash the vegetables. Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the leeks and cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Add the contents of the pan to the mashed vegetables. Add the parsley, salt and pepper and mix ingredients. Add the sour cream and mix to incorporate it completely. Place the mixture inside a casserole dish. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until hot. Makes 6-8 servings