The poor old turnip gets a bad rap. It always seems to get out classed by other winter root vegetables (back off rutabaga’s..) and never quite ever gets seen as the star of the show. Half of the problem I think for us Brit’s was its association with Baldrick (NOTHING is ever going to be cool if associated with Baldrick) from the incredibly funny Blackadder TV series. From there it was just downhill for this sweet tasting white globe. I personally prefer the smaller, or “baby” turnips. I think they are sweeter, and more delicate. Just like me.
The guanciale that Becky and I put in cure over a month ago was looking like it needed a jolly good testing, so I started thinking. The piece of jowl (neck) that we cured came from a small whey fed pig, raised locally here in Washington. The idea of curing a whey pig was interesting to me, I was intrigued to see if you could taste any kind of milkiness in the fat. Turns out you can, if you really try.
Guanciale can be eaten raw, once it has hung for long enough, however for me the meat/fat ratio is out of whack for a clean cold cut. If you get your jowl from a good pig (and you should if you want to cure this cut) then it is most likely going to be more fat than meat per slice. There is nothing wrong with if you are eating lardo, but then that is typically air dried for much, much longer. Guanciale raw can taste exceedingly rich, and a little greasy. Best off cooking it in my mind.
The basic idea of this is to make what I consider the healthiest turnip recipe on the planet. The turnips get roasted in rendered guanciale fat. Tossed with the crisp pieces of guanciale (from the rendering), dressed with a little vinegar to cut the fat, then tossed with some fresh herbs. There. Vegetables, with herbs. Healthy. If anyone says that pork fat isn’t good for you, then they should quit reading this blog now. It is. LARD LARD LARD. (immaturity over now.)
Turnips benefit greatly from being cooked in some kind of fat. Preferably something with some decent quality saturated fat in (guanciale..) You could use olive oil, you know if your New Years Resolution isn’t quite in line with mine. It would miss something though, in fact it would miss a lot. So, second thoughts – don’t use olive oil. You could use bacon though, or pancetta. The fat turns the turnips golden brown. Which is pretty. Thankfully it also makes it taste good to – adds a little nuttiness to the exterior of the “nip”. What is great too is that it forms almost a skin around the whole thing. You get this crisp exterior, then a warm soft, creamy interior to the turnip that is hard to get any other way.
Whenever I am using pork or duck fat as a dressing I find it incredibly important to deglaze the pan with a splash of decent vinegar. Cut the richness and add some interest. Here I am using a basic white wine vinegar, but you could certainly use sherry vinegar. Balsamic might be too sweet though. The final thing to do with the dish is to toss in some herbs to help freshen things up a bit. Here I used the classic French “fines herbs” combo of parsley, chives, tarragon, dill. Chervil can go in there too, but is often a bugger to find.
This dish is best served immediately. The turnips skin starts to wilt, the dressing can break, the herbs loose their vibrant green color. I suggest running this dish to the table as fast as possible. That should offset all that lovely fatty pork a bit.
Out of interest, if you can find turnips with the greens still attached, buy them. The greens go bad pretty quick, so plan on using them right away. Most of the nutrients of the plant are actually in the leaves rather than the root bulb itself. To use in this recipe just add the leaves in to the roasting pan 5 minutes before the turnips are done. Toss a bit, then back in the oven to just wilt them off and finish cooking the turnips.
Roast baby turnips recipe
10-12 baby turnips, cleaned
4oz guanciale, diced
splash of wine vinegar
few leaves of the following: fresh parsley, chives, tarragon, dill. Chervil if you can find it.
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450F
Put a thick saute pan over a medium heat, and toss in the guanciale. Let the fat render off the guanciale, and the pieces of meat crisp up. Remove the pieces of meat, and turn up the heat under the pan of guanciale fat.
Put the turnips in to the hot fat, toss to coat. Bung the pan in to the oven. Roast until the turnips are golden brown, about 25-30 minutes depending on size. Toss the turnips in the fat a few times during roasting.
Just before serving, finely chop the herbs. Pull the turnip pan from the oven and throw in the pieces of cooked guanciale meat. Toss to combine. Add a splash of wine vinegar, let it fizz, and stir to combine again. Finish the dish with the fresh herbs and a little freshly ground black pepper. You will find the guanciale salty enough so no extra salt required.
EXTRA EXTRA!! Here is the remarkably quick food photography setup I did for the opening shot of the turnips in this post. My stove area has totally crap light, so I decided to take the stove to the light. Thankfully the cast iron grates are removable, so I just dragged em over to the light, and set them on black board. If you look really closely you will see my son’s Tinkerbell snowglobe sitting in a pan.. I was using it for test shots whilst the turnips cooked (since it is roughly turnip sized..)