Behold, the spring turnip

A beautiful bunch of purple-top turnips were included in this week's CSA box. I like turnips, but many people don't, think they don't, or don't know what to do with them.

Spring turnips differ from their cool weather counterparts, and can be treated accordingly. The beauty of the spring turnip: a crisp, peppery goodness their winter brethren don't offer. Young spring turnips can cooked of course (they're great mashed with potato or made into soup) but it's a shame not to exploit their bright, fresh quality.

Simply sliced on a mandoline, sprinkled with kosher salt, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of vinegar — this emphasizes a spring turnip's best features. Enjoy alone or as part of a salad.

After singing the praises of raw young turnips, I now bring you a cooked turnip recipe. I want to light the stove, break out a spatula, and feel like I'm really cooking. And I need use up the fattening dairy products leftover from Thursday's ice cream.

Feel free to use only half-and-half here, or reduce the calorie count further by using milk thickened with a blond roux (flour and butter cooked together). Think bechamel sauce. One key point is to flavor the cream with garlic and thyme; another is to slice the turnips very thinly, so they don't require blanching before being layered into the gratin.

This makes a nice lunch paired with a green salad and bread. It can also be used as a first course or side dish.

Turnip and Leek Gratin
Yield: 4 servings

2 garlic cloves
a little butter for the gratin dish
1 cup of half-and-half
1/3 cup of heavy cream
a few springs of fresh thyme
1 heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and again into 1/4-inch thick half-moons
1 1/2 pounds of turnips, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub a gratin dish (mine is 1 1/2 quarts) with a smashed garlic clove and butter.

In a saucepan, heat the smashed garlic cloves with the half-and-half, thyme sprigs, and heavy cream. Don't boil, but bring to a simmer and reduce for a few minutes. Whisk in the Dijon mustard and strain.

Leeks should be cooked in boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and cool.

Layer the turnip and leeks in a gratin gratin dish, sprinkling salt and freshly ground black pepper between the layers, as well as a few thyme leaves. Pour the heated cream mixture (strained) between the layers and over the top. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Cook for about 55-60 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and the turnips are soft.

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