~ Recipe and story by Chef & Food Stylist, Molly Shuster. Photography by me.
Often times, just the thought of wandering the farmer’s markets during the cold winter months is enough to keep people at home. I mean, what can you buy besides potatoes anyway? I actually love this time of year and the season’s flavors. Yes, this post is coming a bit late and some of the produce available in December no longer lines the tables of the greenmarkets. But all sorts of goodies — brussel-sprouts, apples, pears, turnips, parsnips and squash included, are widely available during the winter months and they just happen to be some of my very favorite foods.
For the holidays, I went home to Massachusetts and was eager to cook a feast for my family. My first stop for inspiration and ingredients to create our Christmas dinner was a small local farm in Westport, MA that my mother had introduced me to some time ago. They sell local dairy products, cheese, and cranberries along with their own produce and eggs. I had a veritable Union Square farmer’s market in my backyard!
Turnips, a rather disregarded vegetable, are fantastic. Truly, they deserve more recognition. Most turnips are a cantaloupe-orange-color with a mild, sweet flavor reminiscent of a parsnip. In a small Massachusetts town that borders Rhode Island, an unusual variety of white turnips grows and is a local favorite. Known as Westport turnips, after the place in which they grow, these white gems have the same flavor and texture as their more common namesake. They just lack the sherbet hue. It quickly became clear that Westport turnips would have to find their way to my holiday menu.
This dish, which made the cut for my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, is delicious. Simply layer turnips and sweet potatoes with gruyere cheese, sage and thyme. Then pour in hot cream and bake until bubbly perfection! The natural sweetness from the turnips and sweet-potatoes makes an otherwise traditional preparation both interesting and even more delicious.
Sweet Potato and Turnip Gratin
2 lb turnips (about 1 large turnip or 2 medium turnips)
2 lb sweet potatoes (about 2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes)
6oz. gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon sage, finely chopped
2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
salt, pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small pot, heat the butter, cream and garlic over low heat. Using a cheese grate, shred the gruyere cheese and reserve.
Meanwhile, peel and quarter the turnip and the sweet potatoes.
Cut into very thin slices, about 1/8” thick. Set aside.
In a medium-sized roasting pan, layer the prepared ingredients starting with a layer of sweet potatoes followed by a layer of turnips. Sprinkle generously with chopped sage and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and finish with a layer of shredded cheese (make sure you reserve enough cheese for the final topping!). Repeat this process, finishing with a final layer of sweet potatoes sprinkled with the remaining chopped herbs and a generous amount of shredded cheese.
Remove the garlic cloves from the cream and pour the warm liquid over the gratin.
Place in the oven and bake until the potatoes and turnips are cooked through and the gratin is brown and bubbly, about 1 hour.
Let the gratin cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
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