Turnips Gratinée (aka Cheesy Neeps)

cheesy neeps turnips au gratin gratinée with cheese Gruyère French Burns Night Scottish

If you live in a northerly place, trying to eat seasonally in winter can sometimes feel like a chore. With the exception of expensive (and often impossible to find) greenhouse-grown fruits and veggies, most local produce is limited to roots, squash, and hardy “storage vegetables” (usually more roots and squash).

Now, I love beets and cabbage and sweet potatoes as much as the next person. But after awhile even the most dedicated locavore feels worn down by the endless line of hard, knobby root vegetables. How many times can you roast the same tray of cubed veg tossed in herbs before going crazy?

When I’m feeling particularly depressed about eating the same old-same old for what feels like the millionth week, I turn to the one food culture that can make anything, no matter how run-of-the-mill or tired, feel elegant and gourmet—the French. This recipe combines nearly all the best parts of French cooking: butter, cream, mustard, and cheese. The only thing missing is wine, and you can easily add that in by enjoying a glass while the dish bakes!

white turnips peeler peeled gratin gratinée neeps

I used a mandoline slicer to get my turnips to an even thinness, but don’t fret if all you have is a sharp kitchen knife—that’ll do fine. If you’re concerned about cholesterol or calories, well, this dish is probably not for you, but feel free to substitute light cream or half and half if you wish.

In French, one might call this dish navets au gratin or navets gratinés but in the spirit of Burns Night (tonight, January 25!), I’ve dubbed it “cheesy neeps” (turnips = neeps in Scots-speak). If at all possible, use white turnips rather than yellow turnips (also known as swede or rutabaga)—they slice easier and cook faster. If you are using yellow turnips, you may want to increase the cooking time under foil to a full hour.

Cheesy Neeps (Turnips Gratinée)

Ingredients:
5 small white turnips (~5 cups’ worth)
3/4 cup of heavy cream
2 Tbs. whole-grain Dijon mustard, such as Maille
1/2 – 3/4 cup coarsely-grated Gruyère cheese (if unavailable, substitute Emmenthaler or Swiss)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. butter

Directions: 
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Rub the butter around the bottom and inside edges of a glass pie plate or round casserole dish.
2. Peel turnips and slice 1/8″ thick using a mandoline or sharp knife.
3. Whisk cream, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge turnip slices thoroughly, and layer in the round dish, scooping up plenty of liquid with each slice. Pour any remaining cream on the top layer.
4. Sprinkle generously with cheese, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake covered for 45 minutes; then uncover and bake a further 20 minutes until the cheese is brown and cream is bubbly.

Three-Meat Meatballs in Red Sauce

Photo 23

What is it about Sundays that makes me want to eat a big, Italian, family meal? I didn’t grow up around extended family and I don’t have a drop of Italian ancestry. Yet Sunday afternoon rolls around and I dream of a kitchen full of chatty relatives, chopping, stirring, drinking wine, and good-naturedly yelling at each other. (In my fantasy, I’m mostly drinking wine and yelling. Or is that in real life?)

I can’t claim Italian blood and thus neither can I claim authenticity for these meatballs, but mamma mia, are they good. Yet another recipe from the paternal grandmother, this one was always reserved for special occasions. In fact, up until her death, only my grandmother was allowed to make them, which meant we couldn’t eat them unless we endured an arduous car trip from North Carolina to New Jersey. Hours spent bickering on the gridlocked Garden State Parkway were rewarded with tender meatballs and chewy Italian sausage swimming in red sauce. I still salivate when I see Exit 82.

I always make a huge batch of meatballs so I can eat them for lunch later in the week. If you double the meat, you’ll probably only need to increase the bread, onion, and grated Parmesan by 50-75%. If you can’t find ground veal (or don’t want to use it), just use pork and beef or all beef. To stretch the meal (and make less work for yourself), brown some fresh Italian sausage and simmer it alongside the meatballs.

The sauce may or may not be the world’s most awesome invention. I’ve seen lots of variations around the interwebs so I can’t take credit, but I do think the red wine is crucial. You can add fresh or powdered garlic, double the onion, whatever. A lot of recipes call for using whole peeled tomatoes and crushing them after some cooking time, but if you’re adding meatballs this becomes rather difficult. Save yourself the trouble and just used the already-crushed tomatoes: taste-wise, it’s identical and although the texture is different it won’t be so obvious with the other stuff floating in it.

Photo 24

Three-Meat Meatballs

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/4-1/3 lb. ground pork
1/4-1/3 lb. ground veal
1 large egg
1 tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices of white bread or one large white roll, soaked in water
olive oil
1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into 2-inch chunks (optional)

Directions: 
1. After soaking the bread, press out as much water as possible by squeezing, then tear into small pieces.

2. Combine all ingredients thoroughly: use your hands to really mix it all together. Form into 2-inch balls.

3. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Brown meatballs in batches on all sides, turning gently. If you’re also cooking Italian sausage, brown it after the meatballs.

4. Add the meatballs and sausage to hot red sauce and simmer slowly for 1.5-2 hours. Serve over the pasta of your choice (I prefer rigatoni).

Awesome Sauce: World’s Easiest & Tastiest Pasta Sauce

Ingredients for ~1 lb. of meat and pasta; double for larger portions:
2 large (28 oz) cans of crushed tomatoes like Sclafani, Contadina or Cento
1 onion, peeled and cut in half but otherwise intact
4 Tbs. butter
4-6 Tbs. red wine

Directions: 
1. Empty the tomatoes into a heavy pot with lid. Add the onion, butter, and red wine and simmer 1.5-2 hours.

2. Just before serving, remove the onion and discard. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.