Turnip-apple purée with green cabbage and leeks

We sometimes overlook vegetables that keep well during the winter months, our shopper's gaze turning to fresh market ingredients that may begin to appear in February, as daylight increases and soil and air temperatures rise. The temptation to shop for food items transported from warmer climates can be overwhelming; I admit to giving in from time to time, so that I can make the zucchini cakes that I know will disappear from my young daughter's plate.

When that urge hits, try this combination of cold weather staples: turnips, apples, cabbage and leeks. It's worth digging up these core winter vegetables, especially since Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on February 2nd, predicting winter will linger for a while longer--6 weeks to be exact! 

The purple top turnip (see photo) is probably the best known. White and yellow varieties--even rutabaga--taste and behave similarly when cooked. The water content of turnips is high, and their flavor is mild, so the addition of an apple is intended to boost the sweetness. Every cook and eater have a preference when it comes to cooked cabbage. I like green cabbage to have a slight crunch to it, so I tend to cook it less than red cabbage.

Once the ingredients are prepped, you can put this dish together in 30 minutes, creating a winter meal that stands beautifully on its own, or becomes the base for something roasted, or even a piece of baked salmon. 


makes 4 servings

Ingredients

4 medium-size turnips, any variety, trimmed, peeled, and cut in 6 to 8 chunks each

2 teaspoons salt

1 firm slightly sweet red apple, such as Gala, Braeburn or Fuji, peeled, cored and cut in 8 to 10 chunks

1 small white onion, thinly sliced

1/2 head green cabbage, core removed and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Juice of half a lemon

1 large leek, white part only, sliced in 1/3-inch rings

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Procedure

Place the turnips in a medium size pot with a lid and cover with cold water. Add the salt, cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes before adding the apple pieces.  Simmer 5 more minutes and drain reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. 

Meanwhile, start cooking the cabbage while the turnips simmer.  Place 1/2 cup water in a wide saute pan. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and add the sliced onion.  Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes to soften and sweeten the onion slightly before adding the cabbage.  Add more water as needed to avoid browning the onions or cabbage. Cover the pan and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon butter and the thyme, remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and ground black pepper. Set the pan aside to keep warm. 

Place the turnips in a the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, the lemon juice and reserved cooking liquid.  Pulse the mixture several times until the puree is smooth. (Or, leave the puree slightly rough if that is your preference.) Season to taste with salt, add the puree back to the pot and set aside in a warm spot. If the puree seems too wet, simmer it over low heat until some of the excess liquid evaporates.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, preferably cast iron. Place the leeks rings cut side down in the pan. Brown them on one side, lower the heat and season with salt.  Turn the rings over and continue to cook the leeks slowly, until they soften and brown, 6 to 8 minutes total. 

Reheat the turnip purée and cabbage if needed. To serve, place some puree in the center of each plate and arrange the leeks around the edge on one side, and the cabbage on the other.  If adding meat or fish, place the item on top of the puree and serve immediately.