Suffering from January blues? Here’s the cure — a big pot of bubbling stew and even if you never cooked a thing in your life you can do this.
Funds are probably low, it’s so easy to overspend both before Christmas and in the January sales so in this column I’ll focus on how to make several yummy meals from one of the least expensive seasonal ingredients — the humble swede turnip. All root vegetables are at their very best in winter. Parsnips, carrots, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and swede turnip all become even more delicious after a few night’s frost where the low temperatures transform the starches into sugars. Same happens with fancy salsify and scorzonera and we’ve also been enjoying both oca and yakón — root vegetables that you can easily grow yourself if you can source the tubers. Contact the The Organic Centre in Leitrim: www.theorganiccentre.ie.
But never mind, we’ll focus on a vegetable that can be bought from any village shop or Farmers’ market. Try if you can to source local and fresh. Sorry to keep harping on about this but if we continue down the route of below cost selling the few remaining Irish vegetable growers who are hanging on by their finger-tips will not be able to survive. We are totally sleepwalking into a crisis where unless you grow your own, fresh Irish produce will be virtually unobtainable. I can’t imagine how a turnip that spends up to 5 months in the ground can be sold for as little as 49 cents. Well, enjoy while you can, all that nourishment and deliciousness for just a few cent. The versatile swede turnip was first introduced into Ireland in the 1800s. It was a very important agricultural development, a vegetable sown in winter that could stay in the ground until needed. Turnips grow on top of the ground so could be harvested easily, and didn’t need to be stored in a shed plus the farmer could nourish and feed both his family and his livestock with this inexpensive vegetable which originally grew wild in Sweden, hence the name.
From the cooks point of view, swede turnips are super versatile. They can be boiled, steamed or fried, made into soups or purees or gratins. Cut them into cubes to bulk out a casserole or stew. They benefit from the addition of herbs and spices or can be combined with other root vegetables in a myriad of ways. It keeps for months, use a quarter or half and store the rest in a cool place to use in another dish or at a later date.
Winter Irish Stew
The swede turnip adds more substance and flavour, don’t forget to season well. If you’d like a whole meal in a pot cover the top of the stew with whole peeled potatoes, cover and cook as below.
Trim off the excess fat from the chops. Remove the bones and cut into generous 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes, you should have a minimum of 1.1kg (2½lbs) lamb. Set aside. Render down the fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).
Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole. Peel the turnip and cut into cubes.
Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole (add the bones also but discard later).
Quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots, onions and turnip up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt.
De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole.
Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes.
Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget. (If the potatoes are small, use twice as many and add half way through cooking.) When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Discard the bones. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux.
Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot, in a large pottery dish or in individual bowls.
A Bubbly Gratin of Swede Turnips and Potatoes with Thyme Leaves, Smoked Bacon and Parmesan
This is a robust warming gratin made with one of my favourite winter vegetables, the cheap and cheerful swede turnip. This brassica, the least glamorous of the turnip family brings back happy childhood memories. I remember as a child going to our nearest farm owned by Bill and Mary Walsh and grabbing the raw sliced turnips from the slicer before they were taken out the fields to be spread as winter feeding for the sheep when the grass had become scarce. We would dip the slightly muddy shards of turnip in the nearest churn of water, so cold it turned our little hands purple, give them a cursory rinse and then munch away with relish. That sweet and peppery flavour has stayed with me and I still think that this purple skinned and golden fleshed root is a thing of beauty.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt. Drop in the sliced turnips, bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. The turnips will have tenderized slightly but will not be fully cooked. Strain out the turnips, reserving the water for cooking the potatoes. Place the turnips on a tray lined with a tea towel.
Bring the water back to the boil and add the sliced potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute only. Strain and rinse under the cold tap and place on a tray lined with a tea towel like the turnips.
Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon lardons. Cook stirring until the bacon is crisp and golden. Strain out the bacon and place on a piece of kitchen paper towel to drain.
To assemble the gratin, grease the gratin dish with a light smear of butter. Place on a layer of the turnips and potatoes, followed by a sprinkle of thyme leaves, a sprinkle of lardons of bacon and a sprinkle of the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Splash on a little of the cream. Repeat the process finishing the gratin with a final sprinkle of the cheese.
Place the gratin in a bain-marie in the preheated oven and cook for 60-80 minutes. After 60 minutes, test the gratin with a skewer to see if the potatoes and turnips are tender. The skewer should go through the vegetables with no resistance and the top of the gratin should be a rich golden colour.
The cooked gratin will sit happily in the oven for an hour before serving with the temperature reduced to 50C/120°F/Gas Mark 1/4.
Swede Turnips with Chorizo Crumbs
Serves 6 approx
Peel the turnip thickly to remove the thick outside skin. Cut into 2cm cubes approximately. Put into a high-sided saucepan. Cover with water. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft. This can take 30 to 45 minutes.
Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter. Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt ifnecessary. Garnish with parsley, sprinkle with chorizo crumbs and serve.
Chorizo Crumbs Chorizo crumbs are delicious used in so many ways. We like to scatter them over potato, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke or watercress soup. They areparticularly good sprinkled over cauliflower or macaroni cheese. Keep in a box for several weeks and scatter when you fancy! Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo. Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp. Careful – it’s easy to burn the chorizo, drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.
Swede Turnip Soup with Pancetta and Parsley Oil
A poshed-up version of turnip soup, with some parsley oil dribbled on top and some crispy pancetta to nibble.
First, make the Parsley Oil.
Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green. Push through a nylon sieve.
Next, make the soup.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked. Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary.
Spread the slices of pancetta on a wire rack over a baking tray. Cook under a grill for 1 – 2 minutes or until crisp.
Serve in bowls, drizzle each with parsley oil and lay a slice of crispy pancetta on top.
Note: Those of you dislike puréed soups or may not have access to a blender, can of course serve this soup in its chunky form — also delicious.
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