Among the many things I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving are the winter vegetables that fall into my “under-appreciated” category, roots like turnips, and rutabaga, kohlrabi and celeriac. They’re in abundance in November, and they often appear on my Thanksgiving buffet. Turnips are especially welcome. I pair them with potatoes in a gratin that’s plenty rich and comforting, but half as starchy as a traditional potato gratin. If I can get the turnips with the greens attached, which isn’t a challenge if I buy them at the farmers market, then I blanch the greens and add them to the mix.
Turnips also find their way into a classic puréed winter vegetable soup, the kind of soup French women can make with their eyes closed. Even big turnips that are on the mealy side are great in this soup. In fact, once turnips reach this state, soup is the only place for them. And what a good home it is. The vegetable soup makes a simple start to a Thanksgiving dinner.
‘Neeps and Tatties': Potato and Turnip Gratin
1 pound turnips
1 pound potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (or you can use ¾ pound turnips and 1¼ pounds potatoes)
Freshly ground pepper
1¾ cups milk (whole, 2% or 1%)
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the gratin dish
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prepare the turnips and potatoes. If the turnips are small baby turnips, trim, peel and leave whole. If they are large, peel and slice about ¼-inch thick. Scrub potatoes — only peel them if you want to — and slice about ¼-inch thick, or a little thinner if desired.
2. When the water comes to a boil, drop in the turnips; if they are whole, boil for 5 minutes; if sliced, boil for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and drain. Slice whole turnips about ¼-inch thick. Drop the sliced potatoes into the boiling water and boil 5 minutes. Drain and toss with the turnips in a bowl.
3. Heat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 2½- or 3-quart gratin dish. Layer the potatoes and turnips, generously salting and peppering each layer before covering it with the next. When all of the potatoes and turnips are used up, mix together the milk and cream, and pour over. Dot the top with butter.
4. Bake the gratin for an hour to an hour and a half, breaking up the top layer with a large spoon every 10 to 15 minutes and stirring it under along with the browned top surface. The gratin is done when most of the liquid has been absorbed and the top and edges are golden brown. Serve hot or warm.
Variation: Neeps, tatties and greens
If the turnips are attached to their greens, strip the greens off the stems, wash in two changes of water and blanch for 2 minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop medium-fine and toss with the turnips and potatoes at the end of Step 2.
Purée of Winter Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ pound leeks (1 large or 2 small), white and light green part only, cleaned well and sliced
½ pound carrots (2 large), peeled and sliced
1 pound turnips, peeled and diced
½ pound potatoes (such as 2 medium Yukon Golds), peeled and diced
1½ quarts water, chicken stock or vegetable stock (more as needed)
A bouquet garni made with 1 bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each of thyme and parsley
½ cup crème fraîche (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, and add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender but not colored, about 5 more minutes. Add the carrots, turnips, potatoes, and water or stock and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons if using water) and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Remove the bouquet garni and discard.
2. Using an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender, blend the soup until smooth. If you use a blender, only fill halfway and cover the top with a towel rather than a tight-fitting lid, or take the center piece out of the lid and cover with a towel so the soup won’t splash or force the top off. Place a coarse or medium-mesh strainer over a bowl and put the soup through a strainer, pressing the soup through with the back of your ladle or with a pestle. Return to the pot. Thin out to taste with more stock. If desired, whisk in ½ cup crème fraîche, and heat through. Add lots of freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt.
Note: To make a quick vegetable stock, cut away the dark green outer leaves of the leeks, wash thoroughly and simmer in a pot of water with the peelings from the carrots while you prepare your other vegetables. Strain and use for the soup.
Advance preparation: The finished soup will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. Whisk before reheating.
Photo: Turnips at the farmers market. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman