Here's a little amusing task for you. Get a turnip and a swede then walk up to random people in the street and ask them if they know which one is which. You will probably get a lot of strange looks, certainly people running away from you and most likely the possibility of being arrested. But when you do get answers, the chances are that an awful lot of people will get it completely wrong.
I grew up thinking a swede was a turnip and vice versa. Despite mashed swede (the orange stuff) always being either on the Sunday dinner or crudely chopped into tiny cubes and boiled to smithereens on the school dinners, a little part of my tiny mind still could not distinguish which was which. And judging by the tests I have done when I'm in a 'Is it a swede or a turnip?' mood, the British public have the same problem.
In these days of food obsession and the fact that I have a responsibility to teach people about food in my everyday job, it is a culinary stumbling block I have had to get right. Swedes are the larger orange fleshed variety and called 'neeps' up in bonny Scotland. Turnips are generally the smaller white fleshed variety with a light purple tinge to their skin. Got that?
I managed to get some British baby white turnips this week which was surprising for this time of the year. But no complaints as these small, sweet and delicate vegetables are a true treat that with the right attention can be transformed into a complete dish on their own. My turnips are given royal treatment with the addition of roasted hazelnuts, thyme and lemon and just a hint of garlic to allow the vegetable's natural pepper heat to shine through. If you get some with their luscious green tops complete, wilt them in the pan as you are finishing them off to give you the complete dish. If you can't be bothered to cook them, a few thin slices added to a salad adds a welcome crunch and heat.
So get your swedes and your turnips the right way around. Both are quite the most amazing vegetable in their own right and certainly vegetables that should be promoted to higher status on the British dinner plate. Of course, I could be wrong and I could be right.
White Turnips with Hazelnuts, Thyme and Lemon
Feeds 2 as a lunch or 4 as a side dish
6 baby white turnips
2 handfuls of whole hazelnuts
1 small clove of garlic, sliced thin
A handful of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stalks and roughly chopped
The juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
1 - Cut off any leaves from the turnips and roughly chop and set aside. You can leave the skins on small white turnips but if you prefer, peel and cut into medium chunks. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the turnips. Boil for 5 minutes - you want a bit of bite to them - then drain and set aside.
2 - Bash your hazelnuts up into pieces, not too small. Heat up a frying pan and add the hazelnuts. Gently toss them until toasted but be careful as they will burn easily.
3 - Add the butter to the pan and melt. Add the garlic and thyme along with the cooked turnips and gently toss until coated. Squeeze in the lemon juice, grate in some black pepper and taste for seasoning. If you have the leaves left, toss them in and cook for a few seconds until wilted.
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