Turnip Gratin

The humble turnip is as old as civilization. How someone knew to pull this funky bulbous root up from the earth, chop it with a mighty blow and then eat it, is a mystery-but thank goodness someone did. For turnipophiles and newbies alike, one of the best-loved ways to cook and eat turnips is creamy, cheesy turnip gratin.

Note: Please don't confuse the turnip with the rutabaga. Many folks say turnip when they mean the big, yellow-flesh rutabaga instead.

Turnips in history

Turnips have been a staple crop for both humans and animals for a very long time. Before the potato left the Andes Mountains of South America and traveled the globe leaving converts in it's wake, the turnip was boss. One of the most ancient encyclopedias of natural history, Naturalis Historia, authored by famous Roman naturalist and author, Pliny the Elder in 77 A.D., praised the turnip (then known by the word, rape, from the Latin rapum) as one of the most important consumable plants next to corn and beans.

How to prepare turnips?

Turnips are a hard root vegetable with a white flesh and tough skin. The edible root turns pinkish red when exposed to sunlight, which is why the turnips are colored reddish at the top, turning to white toward the taproot. The turnip should be peeled like a carrot before cooking and eating. A sharp knife and a strong hand will make short work of carving up the raw turnip for boiling or slicing as in a gratin.

Turnip gratin recipe

One of the most delicious and simple gratin recipes for the turnip follows. Basic, quality ingredients and a firm, plump turnip are all that's needed to create a delectable masterpiece worthy of a Roman emperor.

Ingredients:

3 and 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 medium turnip, sliced thinly (use mandolin for uniform thickness)

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Cayenne, to taste

Thyme, minced, to taste

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup (or more) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Directions:

  • Melt 3 and 1/2 tablespoons of butter in an oven safe, 12-inch, heavy frying pan. (No plastic handles, please.)
  • Prepare the turnip and slice thinly. Keep turnip slices from turning color by covering the slices with a wet paper towel while you assemble the gratin.
  • Layer slices in the frying pan-overlapping slightly-followed by salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and minced thyme. Repeat layers until pan is full and all turnip is gone.
  • Cover the frying pan tightly with aluminum foil or lid. Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Pull foil back carefully to avoid being burned by hot steam. Pour 1 cup of heavy cream in the pan, recover and cook another 15 minutes.
  • Pull back the foil again. Sprinkle generously with at least one cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  • Bake uncovered for a final 10 to 15 minutes. The turnip is done when it's fork tender, the sauce is bubbly and thick, and the cheese is a perfect golden brown.
  • Note: Let the gratin sit before serving to further thicken the sauce and solidify the layers. This should only take about 5 to 10 minutes. Cut with serrated knife, and serve with a spatula. Scoop up the sauce with a spoon, and pour a little extra on the dish.
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