Last week, I worked with Organic P.E.I., demonstrating different ways of preparing Island organic produce at the provincial exhibition, Old Home Week.
Each time I do that type of work, I get a greater appreciation for the variety of food crops that Island farmers grow. In one week, we worked with garlic, onions, yellow beans, new potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, kale, cauliflower, black currants, kohlrabi and more.
Working in a situation in which someone else — in this case, the grower — decides which foods to feature expands my horizons. For one thing, it affords a chance to get more familiar with vegetables that I use less frequently. This year, that vegetable was the summer turnip.
Summer turnips, also just called turnips, are smaller, milder, more tender vegetables than the turnips we use in winter, which are actually swedes or rutabagas. They do not store as well as rutabagas and other winter vegetables do and are usually used only for a short period in the summer.
There are several types of summer turnips. Some of them are white below the soil line and pinkish in the area that is exposed to the air and sunlight as they grow. Others have a totally red skin. The ones we used were pure white, with skin as smooth as silk.
The grower told us they are delicious in pizza, so we included 6 mm (1/4-inch) slices of fresh turnip, as is — not even parboiled — in our veggie pizza, along with slices of red pepper, green onions and halved cherry tomatoes. We spread a thin layer of tomato sauce, prepared by thinning tomato paste with water and then seasoning with crushed garlic, over a whole wheat crust, distributed the vegetable toppings and covered it all with a thin layer of grated aged cheddar. After baking it in a hot (200 C /400 F) oven just until the crust was baked through, we cut and served our Island summer pizza. No, it wasn't a traditional pizza, but it was a hit.
Cubed or shredded turnip is also good in stir-fries, with any combination of summer vegetables. When cooking a stir-fry, remember to have all the veggies prepared and add them to hot oil in the wok in succession, beginning with the one that takes longest to cook and working through them, one at a time, to the fastest-cooking one. Cook the first vegetable briefly by itself over medium-high heat before adding the next. With each addition, push the vegetables already in the wok away from the centre, placing the new vegetables to the hottest area in the middle and allowing the others to continue cooking in the cooler part around the sides of the pan. As soon as the last vegetable is heated through, add a sauce, if desired. I usually stir a small amount of cornstarch into the sauce ingredients before cooking, to thicken it slightly. You can, of course, use a commercially-prepared sauce instead.
Turnip leaves can be used the way that beet greens are — boiled, steamed or braised and lightly seasoned.
Turnip is also a good salad vegetable, prepared either by cutting it into thin slices and dressing it with lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper or by shredding it to make a slaw.
To make turnip slaw, peel tender young summer turnips and shred with a sharp knife or a grater. Add your choice of vegetables to accent the flavours, such as chopped sweet onion or bell peppers or even a little hot pepper if you prefer. Prepare a sauce by thinning mayonnaise with a little vinegar or lemon juice, maybe adding a tiny sprinkle of sugar and dress. Use commercial coleslaw dressing if preferred. Garnish with a few wisps of shredded turnip greens.
This recipe (adapted from one found on a website for a British community supported agriculture operation) for buttered summer turnips has you blanch the turnips before sautéing them. To speed up last-minute meal preparation, you can do this step in advance. Just chill the blanched turnips immediately in ice water to prevent further cooking, drain and blot them dry, and refrigerate until ready to sauté them just before mealtime.
Turnips and Herbs
400 g (about 14 oz, almost 1 lb) turnips, cleaned and cut into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes or slices
22 mL (1 1/2 tbsp) butter
15 mL (1 tbsp) minced parsley
15 mL (1 tbsp) minced chives
5 mL (1 tsp) minced tarragon
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
salt and pepper to taste
Blanch the turnips in boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes until not quite tender and then drain.
Warm the butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté the turnips, turning frequently.
When they are golden in colour and just tender, add the garlic and stir for a few more moments. Add the herbs, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.