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)

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

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.

Stinging Nettle Soup

I’m a big believer in trying to eat like the locals, so when I saw stinging nettles at the Edinburgh farmers’ market, I snatched them up. (Yes, I realize that I could just go harvest my own from any park or garden, but I took the easy route). Nettles actually do sting, thanks to a pesky chemical compound, so, lacking gardening gloves, I wore plastic bags when washing and chopping them. The best part of the nettle is the youngest bit — the tender top leaves. If the plant has already flowered, don’t eat it — just mow it down and let the young stems sprout anew!

Knowing that nettles are commonly used for tea or soup, I found this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and adjusted it based on what I had on hand and to my own personal taste. I did not precisely shift the quantities when converting to non-metric measurements; for more precise measurements, please refer to the original recipe.

Stinging Nettle Soup

3 Tbs butter
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
Six cups of chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups stinging nettle tops, roughly chopped (Wear gloves while handling raw nettles!)
4-5 scallions or spring onions, chopped
salt and pepper
yogurt or sour cream (optional)

1. In a heavy, large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the onion, garlic, and celery, salt and pepper. Sweat until softened.

2. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3. When potatoes are tender, stir in nettles and simmer about five minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in scallions. When cool enough, puree with an immersion blender or  food processor.

5. Reheat if necessary. Serve with yogurt or sour cream to garnish.

Oh nettle, where is thy sting?

For my first taste, though not first brush, of nettles, I was pleased. The soup was appropriate for spring as the taste of nettles can only be described as green. Lacking nettles, I could see myself making this with any young lettuce or other greens. I used chicken stock but if you want to make this 100% vegetarian then vegetable stock would work just as well. The yogurt added some necessary creaminess; without it, the soup had a sort of grainy mouthfeel — not altogether unpleasant, but a bit unsettling at first. I enjoyed the fact that I was eating a weed, quite literally. There’s something very satisfying about creating a delicious meal out of what would ordinarily be discarded as rubbish.