Turnip gratin: creamy comfort food to get you though winter
Anything that can be made into a gratin is welcome at this time of year
Turnip gratin: Serves 6
It’s the season for turnip and one of my favourite ways to eat this cheap and plentiful Irish vegetable is in a smooth mash with a pool of melted butter or pureed with carrots. Turnip is slightly sweet and peppery with a real kick of heat depending on the size and age of the vegetable. It makes a beautiful soup and pairs really well with cheese.
I love to make it into a gratin. Anything that can be made into a gratin is welcome in my home this time of year. A gratin is pure, creamy comfort food. Sweet potatoes, fennel, potatoes and celeriac all produce slightly different results. I always use milk that’s as creamy as possible. This is no place for low fat or skimmed milk, devoid of richness. I would even advise using half cream if you can’t get full fat milk. Here in Cork I buy Ahern’s raw organic milk from their herd of Jersey cows. Jersey cow milk contains 18 per cent more protein, 20 per cent more calcium and 25 per cent more butterfat than average milk.
Available in farmers’ markets in Midleton and Mahon Point in distinctive glass bottles with red foil lids, the pints of precious milk disappear quickly once I arrive home. Ballinrostig organic cheese makers, also based in east Cork, are now using Ahern’s milk to make an even creamier version of their Gouda-style cheese. They also sell selection packs of their cheeses vac-packed and make the perfect present for the cheese lover in your life over the festive season. I’ve used a little of the Ballinrostig nettle cheese in this gratin, along with smoked Ardsallagh goat’s cheese and mature cheddar. I love using strong cheeses for a gratin – the more flavour the better, as the base vegetable is usually quite subtle.
If you have family members who turn their noses up at turnip, try this gratin using half potatoes instead. It makes an amazing side dish for roast chicken or turkey and is delicious with gravy. Serve with roast beef and add a little horseradish to the milk as you layer it up. Add a little finely chopped thyme between the layers to ensure even flavours and don’t forget to season with salt as you assemble the dish. For even more crunch you can mix breadcrumbs with the final layer of cheese along with a little chopped thyme or rosemary.
This simple gratin makes the most of what can be an often overlooked root vegetable and brings out its best qualities.
1 large turnip or 2 small, peeled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint milk, as creamy as possible
Salt and pepper
300g grated cheese (mature cheddar, Coolea, Gruyère)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Cut the turnip in half then peel using a sharp knife. Cut each half in half again, then thinly slice all of the turnip. You could use a food processor or mandoline to do this too.
Gently heat the milk in a medium pan with the crushed garlic. Rub the sides and base of a medium baking dish with butter. Place half of the turnip slices in the dish and season with salt, scatter with half the cheese and pour over half the garlic-infused milk.
Layer the remaining turnip slices on top and season with salt. Pour over the remaining milk – it should just cover the layers of turnip – and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and ensure all of the turnip is submerged in the milk before scattering with the remaining grated cheese. Bake for another 40 minutes until the turnip is soft and the top and edges are golden.