Anna Jones tells National Geographic Food magazine why turnips and swedes should become regular on your plate.
Almost always in season, but often overlooked, these versatile roots are more delicious than you might think.
Turnips and swedes have a bit of a PR problem. Neither has the elegance of the asparagus spear, the shine of an aubergine, the candy-shop colour of beetroot. Both these affordable, British, long-seasoned veg get passed over time and time again for something prettier, juicier or sweeter.
I do it myself, pouncing on bobbly, deep-sea green cavolo nero, or rainbow carrots and bushy purple sprouting broccoli, leaving the swede and turnip sobbing in the vegetable aisle.
There’s something that feels a little mundane about both these root vegetables; it doesn’t help that swede finds itself inextricably associated with stews and braises. They haven’t kept up with our quest for more exotic flavour or been singled out for a resurgence — like cauliflower or beetroot — by any of the chefs who influence our eating. But I’d make a case for them being equally delicious, versatile and easy to cook.
To my mind their dowdy reputation in the UK is down to the fact that, more often than not, they are served boiled. But done right, boiled swede, mashed with butter and thyme is wonderful and comforting, while boiled turnip dressed with lemon and oil is just as good.
Both are favourites of veg box schemes, too, as they keep well and are sturdy enough to survive the trip. Of all the unloved vegetables, it’s these lonely leftover roots that I’m most often asked about.
The good news is there are a million ways to eat them (check out a few ideas below), but first how to prep? Shorn of their thick outer peel, both swedes and turnips have a dangerous habit of slipping as you try to cut them.
TOP TIP: A good tip for getting round the problem is to cut off a chunk from one side and stand the vegetable on its flat side while you chop.
Anna jones is a cook and food writer. Her latest book, The Modern Cook’s Year, is published by Fourth Estate (£26)
- Turnip and swede are both root vegetables available year-round in the UK.
- A good swede or turnip will feel heavy for its size, and smaller ones may be sweeter.
- Both should have firm, tight skin — swede will have golden yellow flesh and a vibrant purple hue, while turnip can be all white or white and purple.
- Turnip tops can be used in the same way as spring greens or spinach.
HOW TO COOK THEM
Try them grated with carrot in a neat little salad dressed with lemon, a splash of olive oil and toasted cumin seeds. Tops can be quickly blanched, chopped and sautéed with chilli and garlic then tossed through warm pasta with some good olive oil.
Chop into ‘chips’, dust with salt and paprika; drizzle with oil and bake at 200°C, fan 180°C, gas 6 for 30 mins. For a gratin, slice thinly and place in a baking dish; dot with butter, herbs and seasoning; cover with stock and bake for 1hr at the same temperature
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