archives : turnip pinzimonio june '08

I know the season of baby turnips is all but over - here in Paris they flourish at the open-air markets from March to June. Since Istumbled upon a nice bunch of them the other day, I thought I'd share with you this extremely simple and refreshing hors d'oeuvre.
Actually, raw baby turnips are quite sweet with a mellow spiciness.

Of course, their tender leaves (extremely high in Viamins K, A and C) are also a delight sautéed lightly in extra-virgin olive oil, a bit of garlic and lemon, perhaps along with some spring dandelion and/or young chicory leaves. Great as a bruschetta topping with shavings of Sardo Percorino or Parmigiano Reggiano. Turnips in general, seem to have originated in Western Asia and/or parts of Europe. They were cultivated as far back as Hellenistic and Roman times, and were a staple food, espcially for the poor, in Europe during the Middle ages - until the potato made its entrance from South America some time later.

They're one of the cruciferous - meaning edible - vegetables from the Brassica genus of the Brassicaceae, or mustard, family , (that's a mouthful...) which also brings us broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kolrabi, collards, kale, mustard greens, watercress, arugula, radishes, and on and on... All these noble vegetables are relatively good sources of phytonutrients including Vitamin C, Folate, Selenium, Carotenoids, and dietary fiber, as well as being rich in Glucosinolates: sulfur-containng compounds that give crucifers their spicy (mustardy) bite and strong aroma. These compounds, formed when the vegetables are chewed or chopped, are thought to have protective effects against cancer. The ancient Roman Pliny the elder considered the turnip one of the noblest vegetables of his time - "directly after cereals or at all events after the bean, since its utility surpasses that of any other plant."

I guess I'll also have to mention Colza oil, since I use it in this recipe. It was only in doing some research on information about
turnips that I realized that colza oil is obtained from the seeds of a variety of Brassica Rapa, to which, unsurprisingly, turnips
belong. Now I understand why the two - raw baby turnips and extra-virgin colza oil - go so well together.
Note: use only exra-virgin colza oil and use it exclusively as a seasoning oil.

Raw Baby Turnips with Extra-Virgin Colza Oil

1 bunch fresh baby turnips (with leaves)
1/3 cup extra-virgin Colza oil
1/4 - 1/3 tsp unrefined sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper

Pour the extra-virgin colza oil in a small bowl, add the salt and pepper and stir. Set aside for 30 minutes. Cut the leaves off each
turnip bulb (put them aside to make a light mixed greens sauté). Cut off the long thin roots. Slice the turnips into halves
or quarters depending on their size ( the smaller the sweeter). Arrange them on a plate, with a handful of toothpicks nearby.
Garnish with a light sprinkling of sea salt and fresh ground white pepper. Place the bowl of colza oil in the midst of them.
Skewer a turnip, dip it into the oil, stirring it to bring up the settled salt and pepper. Then plop it in your mouth and crunch down.
It's quite an excursion! You can add more or less salt and pepper according to your taste.

Wine note: This hors d'oeuvre actually goes quite nicely with a light, dry champagne or even proseco.

June 15,  2008

I was eagerly awaiting the sleek small heads of spring fennel at the open-air markets in Paris and they finally arrived
a couple of weeks ago. Showing up also in glorious heaps was wild fennel - the stuff that grows along roadsides, all feathery leaves, no bulb, and ever so succulent. Fennel is said to be indigenous to the Mediterranean - the Romans seemed especially fond of it, and still are. It's fruit is actually a dried seed. Chocked full of good things: Vitamin C and Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Copper, Manganese, it's also a good source of dietary fiber.
English folklore in days of yore had it that fennel possessed secret powers. It was believed that hanging a bunch of fennel over a cottage door on Midsummer’s Eve would prevent the effects of witchcraft. In centuries past, Roman women nibbled on the seeds to stave off their appetite. Fennel is considered to be one of the oldest culinary herbs and medicinal plants. In ancient Egyptian medical writings it was referred to as a remedy for flatulence; and elsewhere described as an aid to digestion. Today, it is appreciated for the the health benefits of the antioxidant flavinoids - including Quercetin - it contains.
While leafing through the interent on Italian regional cuisine, I came across a recipe for Wild Fennel Patties. Who but the Italians could come up with such a splendid idea - this is from Southern Italy . Quite a simple feat to make, but biting into one of the herbaceous patties is like filling your mouth with a burst of fragrant wild earthiness. Wine note: Wonderful with a crisp Côtes de Roussillon Rosé, like the Zoé Rosé from La Préceptorie de Centernach.

This is my adaptation to Aneglo Garro's recipe.

Wild Fennel Patties - makes about 12 palm-sized patties

1 lb wild fennel fronds
2 eggs slightly beaten
2 handfuls of day-old bread
2-3 tBsp of the water the fennel was cooked in
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Sardo or Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper

After washing the fennel fronds, parboil or steam them for about 15 minutes. Strain and pat dry in a kitchen towel.
When cool, finely chop the fronds and set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, tear the bread into tiny bits and moisten with the fennel water - not too much. Let stand
for a few minutes. Then add the beaten egg, grated pecorino or parmesan, chopped fennel, salt and pepper,
and mix well. Form into palm-sized patties, place them in a baking dish and bake in a 400 degree oven for
about 20 minutes or until the outside is crisp and golden brown.
I like to eat them just slightly warm with a little salad of diced ripe tomatoes and black olives drizzled
with a wonderful extra-virgin olive oil.

Bon appetit !

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