Turnips, sometimes seen as a rather meagre and unfashionable vegetable, have been the butt of many jokes and even a symbol of poverty.
In the Blackadder TV series, set in Elizabethan England, the turnip is an object of ridicule. Baldrick, Blackadder's servant as played by Tony Robinson, has a particular fondness for them. His specialty is ''turnip surprise'', the surprise being that the dish contains nothing but turnips.
Thankfully, there are some who see the turnip as a noble vegetable. The Slow Food organisation has added the Caprauna turnip, grown in high altitudes between Liguria and Piemonte in north-west Italy, to its register of the world's finest agricultural products.
Across the water, on the island of Sardinia, there is a soup made from turnips and beans.
Its preparation is simple: soak 300 grams of cannellini beans the night before, then drain and rinse. Lightly fry two minced garlic cloves and two tablespoons of chopped parsley in three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add beans and cover with water. Cook until tender, then season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook 400 grams of peeled turnips in simmering water until tender. Drain, slice and distribute into six bowls. Add a handful of chopped, day-old bread to each and ladle soup over. Serve with grated pecorino.
For the fritters:
350g turnips, peeled and coarsely grated
80g fresh ricotta
50g fresh horseradish, finely grated
3/4 cup coarse-cut breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For coating the fritters:
2-3 eggs, beaten into egg wash
Extra virgin olive oil for frying
Once turnips have been grated, pat dry with a clean tea towel. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the fritters, season to taste and mix well. If turnips are a little wet, add another handful of breadcrumbs so the mixture forms a ball in your hand without falling apart. Roll small patties the size of 20¢ pieces until all the mixture is used up. Coat each ball lightly in flour, egg and then breadcrumbs. Pour enough oil into a saucepan to submerge fritters. Heat oil to 175C. It should be hot enough that when you place a breadcrumb in the oil, it floats and sizzles instantly, but not so hot that the fritters burn. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve with a dipping sauce such as salsa verde or tomato and chilli.
Serves 6 as a first course or more as canapes
Wine Semillon-sauvignon blanc blend
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 eschalot, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
4 sage leaves
1/2 tsp cumin seed
200g two-day-old bread, crusts removed, chopped into small dice
50g parmesan, grated
Peel turnips and boil in plenty of salted water until tender. A skewer should pierce the flesh. Drain, cool a little then chop and puree in a food processor. Place in a tea towel and squeeze out as much water as possible. Heat butter in a pan and lightly fry eschalot, garlic, sage and cumin for a minute or so. Remove from heat and let cool. Place in a bowl and mix with bread, eggs, ricotta and parmesan. Add pureed turnips, season with salt and let mixture rest for at least 30 minutes. Form mixture into balls with a diameter of 4-5cm and cook like gnocchi in boiling salted water. They are ready when they rise to the surface. Serve with burnt butter and parmesan.
Serves 4-6 as a first course
Wine Gruner veltliner or sylvaner
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