Turnips braised in butter, parslied turnips, turnip and potato purée, glazed turnips, turnip casserole: these are just a few of the ways that the “French Chef” Julia Child suggested one might enjoy turnips.
Small young turnips are delicate and slightly sweet; larger more mature turnips can have the crisp flavor of an apple or offer the biting flavor of cabbage, mustard, or radish.
The peak season for turnips runs from mid-fall to early spring. Young turnips are common at farm markets in spring.
The turnip is round and squat and looks something like an old-fashioned spinning top with a rosette of bright green leaves growing from it tops. The upper portion of the turnip’s slightly flattened orb is lilac-purple and the bottom half is white. Young turnips can be radish sized; mature turnips can be as big as a large orange or bigger.
The turnip is not actually a root but a swollen stem base. The ancient Romans distinguished between at least two types of turnips: one called rapa whose stem was large and round, like present day turnips; a second, called napus whose stem was slender and pointed.
The turnip has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years and is believed to have originated in Northern Europe. During the Middle Ages turnips were known by the name nepe (from the Latin napus). Nepe was combined with “turn”–as to “make round”–to become turnip.
Turnips were introduced into China by traders about 2,000 years ago. From China, turnips were introduced to Japan about 1,300 years ago.
There is an all white turnip about the size of a radish that is known as a Tokyo turnip and also called Tokyo-type or kobaku-type turnip. The Tokyo turnip has a delicate, buttery flavor.
Most turnips are white fleshed. If you cut into a turnip and it is yellow fleshed, you probably have a rutabaga. Rutabagas look somewhat like turnips but are larger, rounder, denser, and sweeter than turnips.
Choose. Select turnips that are firm and heavy for their size and that are smooth and without cracks or blemishes. Avoid turnips that are oversized; they will be fibrous and bitter tasting.
Look for turnips that are no larger than 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter. If the leaves are attached, they should be deep green and crisp.
Store. Turnips should be stored unwashed until they are ready for use. Store them in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for 1 to 3 weeks. Turnip leaves or greens should be removed and stored separately in a perforated plastic bag. Turnip greens will keep for 4 or 5 days in refrigerator. To freeze turnips, first blanch them for a couple of minutes or cook and then purée.
Prepare. Before using, wash turnips in cool water, trim the top and bottom, and peel if necessary. Young turnips do not need to be peeled, but older turnips will have a tough skin that is best removed.
Turnips take longer than carrots to cook; allow 10-15 minutes when boiling, slightly more when steaming. Turnips absorb fat easily so fried turnips will be high in calories.
Serve. Turnips can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, or mashed. Prepare them as you would carrots. Sliced or grated raw turnips make a tasty addition to salads. Small turnips can be used as a substitute for radishes. Steamed or boiled turnips can be served with butter or cream. Turnips can be used in soups or stews or cooked around a roast.
You can slice or julienne raw young turnips to add a crisp, crunch to salads.
The French harvest turnips early when they are still young and braise or fry and glaze them.
Turnips have a flavor affinity for cream, curry, duck, lamb, lemon, marjoram, onions, pork, potatoes, thyme, and vinegar.
Nutrition. Turnips are a good source of vitamin C and potassium and contains folic acid.
Turnips contain sulfur and may cause flatulence.
The botanical name for the turnip is Brassica rapa var. rapa