Let us be honest, swedes are probably the least sexy vegetable you could possibly think of. They are ugly, plain, used as animal feed, they smell awful when cooked, give very little in the texture department and most of our collective food trauma as a nation probably comes from having to eat mounds of over boiled, watery, smelly swede.
There is that joke about Irish mammies putting on the turnip in November in preparation for Christmas dinner.
Turnips are of course what we in Ireland usually call swedes, but shockingly turnips are actually those little white and purple roots with the green shoots on the top and whiskers on the bottom.
We only learned of this swede/turnip mix up surprisingly recently. Like with most people we never really put too much thought into swedes and turnips and if they were the same or different.
What good then is the humble swede? We started rediscovering a love of swede only very recently, probably at the same time we figured out that they were in fact swedes and not turnips. When cooked in the right way and paired with the right ingredients, swede can actually be a truly beautiful thing.
The first rule when cooking swede is to not over boil it, you want it to be soft all the way through but still holding shape. Butter is always appreciated with swede, lots of it. Good seasoning helps too, especially a good amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Strong farmhouse cheeses also go extremely well with swede.
We wanted the three recipes here to celebrate both the past and present of how we might eat this much maligned root. The ham with swede mash couldn’t be more Irish but its a beautifully simple dish that just needs to be made the right way. No over boiling being the main thing here.
The gnocchi is an exciting way of eating swede and works very well with garlic and chilli and of course plenty of butter and cheese.
About as classical Irish at it gets and probably something you might at first be tempted to turn your nose up at, you may even have bad memories of eating this very dish.
Trust us please and do give ham and swede a second chance. Usually when cooking swede you want to be careful not to over boil it as it falls apart and becomes watery.
In this recipe, we advise of course not over boiling but it is actually good to leave a little of the cooking water in the pot to give you a very smooth mash. Swede can be a little dry otherwise.
Put the ham in a large pot and fill with cold water. Bring to the boil and then cover to a gentle simmer. Don’t add any salt to the water but do add the peppercorns, half an onion studded with cloves and the bay leaves.
Partially cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes per 450g. For a 1.75kg piece of boneless ham you should cook for roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Place the swede chunks in a large saucepan and fill with cold water to almost cover the chunks.
Bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Take the lid off and boil hard for around 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced considerably.
Mash with the liquid and butter until nice and smooth. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the mustard.
Serve with thick sliced of the ham.
Usually when we make gnocchi, we use mashed potatoes, often leftover from a previous meal. In this recipe, we take a different approach by roasting swede and potatoes until soft and blitzing them in a food processor, adding the flour and seasoning as you go. The resulting dough is a little on the sticky side so use plenty of flour on your work surface and hands when rolling out. Its a wonderful thing when you use something unexpected like swede into a refined dish like this one.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Peel and cut the swede and potatoes into equal sized chunks and place on a large lined baking tray. Drizzle a little olive oil over the chunks, season with salt and pepper and roast for around 40-50 minutes until soft, but not browned.
In a large food processor, blitz until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Add the flour and grated hard cheese and pulse again to form a sort of sticky dough.
Flour a surface and roll out the dough into sausages and cut into little bite sized pieces.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi in batches. They are done when they float to the top. When cooked, drain with a slotted spoon and leave on a tray lined with kitchen paper or a kitchen towel. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the butter, fry the garlic and chilli for two minutes, add the sage leaves and then the gnocchi to the pan and fry for two minutes, turning them so they become slightly browned all over. Serve with some more grated cheese on top.
This dish is all about comfort eating. The last time we made this we both ate it sitting on the couch with spoons, fighting over the cheesiest bits.
We love to use as robust and aged a cheddar we can find, usually a wonderfully strong Derg cheddar from Tipperary does the trick.
Slice the leeks diagonally into ½ inch rounds and cut the peeled swede into medium sized chunks.
Preheat the oven 180C. Melt 30g of butter in a large frying pan and fry the leeks on a medium heat for around 10 minutes until softened. Season with salt and pepper and add the sage leaves and white wine. Cook for a further 2 minutes until the wine has mostly evaporated. Set aside.
Place the swede in a steamer over a pan of boiling water and cook for around 30 minutes until soft.
Alternatively you can boil the swede and drain the water off when the swede is cooked. If you are using the boiling in water method then be very careful about over boiling the swede as they will fall apart and get water logged very quickly.
Mash the swede with the rest of the butter and season will a good pinch of sea salt and pepper.
Fold in the leeks and spoon into a medium casserole dish.
Cover in the grated cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese has gotten very golden brown. Add a splash of Worcester sauce before placing in the oven if you like that sort of thing, which we definitely do.