Have you ever noticed how ugly most winter vegetables are?
My theory is that they need to be ugly so we won't be tempted to eat them in the fall. Because if we did, we’d have nothing to eat in the winter.
I have never been inspired by a turnip. It is hardly attractive, not to mention its odd pale-orange and purple colour.
My friend Lisa – who has excellent taste in both food and clothing – raved about her family’s recipe for turnip puff. She told me how a holiday dinner at her house isn't complete without turnip puff. This woman is devoted to turnip puff.
So when she brought me the recipe, I knew I should treasure it. I carefully put it in the vegetable section of my recipe binder . . . but two years passed before I could find myself inspired to make it.
Now, I understand the devotion.
This recipe is hard to describe, but let’s just say it’s the most delicious turnip incarnation I could ever imagine. It almost feels like a soufflé on the tongue and it’s savoury in just the right way, with that hint of nutmeg and brown sugar rounding it out. (Does anyone have The Flavor Bible? Tell me that turnip and nutmeg aren't superstar companions.)
Let me take you on a journey from ugly vegetable to divine turnip puff.
When I went to buy my turnip, the produce man told me that what we call turnip in Canada is actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. It's also called rutabaga. That explains its distinctive odour.
We decided together that my turnip puff recipe probably really wanted this crossed turnip, so I hefted it into my cart. Then I also bought a pure turnip to cook up later on.
See them here – the pure turnip flaunting its purple and cute status on top of the crossed-turnip cubes and crossed-turnip bottom. (I liked looking at that bottom and imagining its cabbage ancestry.)
Once you have these nice cubes, throw them in a pot of boiling water.
And boil them.
And boil them.
And boil them some more.
(Turnips, I now understand, take a lot longer than potatoes to get soft.)
Eventually, they get soft and their colour becomes a pretty golden-orange. After straining them, pull out the potato masher. I get pretty excited at this part, because I always like mashing unsuspecting vegetables and watching them become a whole new kind of food.
Stir in flour and almost everything else, and your turnip puff is almost ready to bake. Just need to scatter some bread crumbs and drizzle some melted butter . . .
Turnip puff in the oven!
Now, the agony: will my turnip puff puff? Will it stay a soggy lump of mashed-up turnip? Is that a bit of – dare I say it – puff?
This is not a dramatic turnip soufflé, all billowing and full of air. It is a puff. Puffs are gentler. Keep this straight in your head, so you can keep your expectations in check.
After about 45 minutes, it should be puffy and golden-brown. Pull it out and admire what you have made. If anyone else is around, call them over to admire it, too. Look what you’ve done with a turnip!
Eat right away. Even if it’s not Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. And it’s all alone on a plate. Just eat it and be happy. Because turnip is a very inspiring vegetable indeed.
A note for the gluten-free among us: If you’d like to make this gluten-free, use the sweet rice flour and use gluten-free breadcrumbs. I made mine this way and it was scrumptious.
feeds 6 – 8 as a side dish
6 c. turnip, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. wheat flour or 2 tbsp. sweet rice flour
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground pepper
nutmeg (a good grating)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. fine bread crumbs
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt it lightly, if you wish. Throw in the turnip. (Stand back, so the hot water doesn’t hit you!)
Boil for a long time until the cubes are soft. This took me about 30 minutes. In the meantime, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Set aside. Butter a casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the turnip is tender, strain it in a colander. Rinse the empty pot with cold water to speed up the cooling process. Also rinse the turnip in the colander with cold water.
Tumble the turnip back into the almost-dry pot. Add 2 tbsp. butter. Mash with a potato masher. (This is easier than you think.) It should not be steaming hot at this point – only luke-warm or cool. As long as it’s not steaming hot, stir in the flour mixture in stages, sprinkling a bit at a time. Stir in the beaten eggs. Scoop it out into the prepared casserole dish.
Scatter bread crumbs over top. Melt 2 tbsp. of butter and drizzle over. Put in the oven and wait for it to slowly puff up and for its topping to become golden. This should take 40 – 50 minutes.