The first turnips of the season arrived a few weeks ago, little white (or purple-streaked) roots and abundant greens. Most years, I serve the two separately, the turnips lightly butter-glazed and the greens cooked in an Italianate way and served with pasta or on grilled bread.
And that is how I cooked them on a recent market day, but with the idea of serving them together, following the unimpeachable logic of nose-to-tail (or root-to-leaf) turnip eating.
The greens I cooked in advance: In a big pan, I rendered some thinly sliced guanciale, and in the resulting fat (supplemented with olive oil), I sweated two cloves of garlic, sliced, and some chili flakes (actually half a small crushed chipotle, whose smokiness can add an extra dimension, no matter what the cuisine). After cutting the turnip tops in half and rinsing them thoroughly — but draining them imperfectly, leaving some water to cook them in — I packed them into the pan, added salt and covered the pan until the greens had begun to wilt. A few minutes later, they were done — thoroughly cooked, with the stems retaining a little crunch. I set them aside to cool.
Near dinner time, I trimmed and washed — but did not peel — the turnips; I halved the larger ones and put them into a small saucepan with two tablespoons of stock (vegetable, but chicken would have been even better) and a little olive oil. That was the only innovation: Since the greens had been cooked with oil (and guanciale fat), the usual butter seemed inappropriate. I began with the pan covered, then removed the lid when the roots showed the earliest signs of tenderness and reduced the stock and oil to a glaze; the turnips were tiny, most no more than an inch across, and they cooked quickly. Juicy and sweet and sharp all at once.
At serving time, I reheated the greens and served them dotted with the glazed turnips. On this occasion, the turnips and greens accompanied monkfish fillets, sprinkled with salt and a spice mix including Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), smeared with Dijon mustard and roasted for maybe nine minutes in a 450-degree oven.
This all worked well together: Serving the whole turnip at once made perfect sense (there were leftover greens for our annual turnip-top pasta, too), and the fish’s mustard coating connected with the mustardy undercurrent in the vegetable, which botanically speaking is indeed in the mustard family.
Ramps, asparagus, spring onions and now turnips. Winter is way behind us!