I came home from a visit with my family with a giant bag full of turnips.
There are few things that are less sexy than a turnip. The word is unsexy. The raw root in its un-manhandled state is unsexy. And most people, when they think of how they’ve eaten turnips, think of them mashed.
which looks like baby food. By definition…unsexy. Delicious, maybe. But unsexy.
Not that I always need my food to bring the sexy at all times but it’s nice to think of other things to do with it an ingredient that…well…doesn’t remind you of baby food. And turnips are good! They’re bright and peppery, but their flesh can be a little watery and thus marginally difficult (marginally; let’s not make this seem more bleak than it really is) to manage in the cooking process. This is where roasting comes in.
I have come to the conclusion that roasting makes everything better. Kale? Sure! Tomatoes? Roast ‘em slow for a few hours and then just try to contain yourself. Parsnips? Brussels sprouts? Yes and yes! I just roasted grapes and shallots to stuff into some crêpes. I even roast lemons when I make lemon risotto, because it deepens and mellows the lemon flavor so you don’t bite into a tart lemonade-flavored pile of hot rice. Because roasting is a (relatively) dry heat it can help eliminate the water in the turnip and temper its peppery bite, especially if it’s a larger, older turnip.
Anyway. I had these turnips and…what else? Since I saw this as a great opportunity to clear out some stuff in my fridge it became a little bit of a kitchen sink dinner (as in, “everything but the…”). I wrote out a rough draft of the recipe, but it’s written to accommodate how I think (and I always plan for leftovers) so it’s probably best if you read along in the blog first.
Heat your oven to 350°. Prepare your garlic first. Why? Because you can start it roasting while you prep the veggies and said garlic will be ready earlier. This means you can let the garlic get cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves while everything else finishes in the oven, and mix them in with the ricotta cheese without missing a beat. Cut an entire bulb straight across the top, exposing the cross-sectioned cloves. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.
There are two things to bear in mind regarding roasted garlic. One: if it’s too much for you, or you don’t like or can’t eat garlic, don’t worry. Skip this step entirely and mix something like pesto or maybe roasted red peppers in with the cheese. Be creative. It’s your dinner. And two: if you don’t have a fancy clay garlic roaster, don’t sweat it. Neither do I. Or rather, I think I do but I have no idea where it is. Notice that the garlic is on a big piece of aluminum foil? That’s there for a reason. Fold the foil up around your garlic, crimp the edges together and voila! Instant garlic roaster.
Peel your turnips and onions, and cut them and the zucchini into roasting-friendly chunks. Put them all in pans and toss them with salt-pepper-oil, and let them roast for a half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, checking on them and giving them a stir after the first twenty. Do you want to sprinkle the veggies with thyme? All right. Or, do you want to toss them with some balsamic vinegar? Go for it! I just wanted the pure vegetable/garlic combo the day I made this but you know, try what you think will make you happy. It’s all good. I do admit, I had way more turnips to start with than this recipe needs, but in the interests of making my life easier I roasted all of them at once. Whatever’s left over the next day can be topped with breadcrumbs and reheated as a side dish…or stuffed into peppers…or loaded into a quesadilla…the possibilities are endless.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to cook in “one”s. One onion, one zucchini, one bulging bag of turnips, and if I cut too much or cook too much, I incorporate what’s left into something else. Who wants to measure things? Not this girl. Anyway.
I had about a half a cup of ricotta cheese left in my fridge and it was at the “use it or lose it” point…you know when you buy something to make one, specific thing, and then you’ve got that pathetic, almost-but-not-quite useless amount lurking on your shelves until you finally, months later, give up and throw it away? Yeah. It makes me crazy; I hate to waste food. So why not use it here? I also had a reasonable chunk of Swiss cheese that was approaching “use it or lose it” so I ask again: why not? You could also use that lonesome piece of mozzarella you have left over from pizza night, or that chunk of muenster your kids won’t eat because they think it’s “monster cheese”. Creative use of straggler food is what makes for a great kitchen sink dinner; you are virtuously not wasting either food or the money you spent to buy it while in the process making a healthy meal for you and your loved ones, and who doesn’t feel good about that?
If your veggies are approaching doneness then your pasta should be boiling by now. Mash howevermuch garlic you want into the ricotta (or, see above for non-garlic suggestions), reserve one cup of your pasta water, drain your pasta and then prepare for major assemblage.
Put a few handfuls of cleaned spinach into a bowl. Shake some red pepper flakes on it and toss it with some of the hot, starchy pasta water so it begins to wilt.
Then: add the ricotta and garlic mixture and the rest of the water, and give that a good stir. Pour the steaming pasta on top of that, and then top with your veggies. If you think you roasted more turnips or zucchini or onions than you want in the pasta, that’s fine, only add as much as you think is right. Mix in the Swiss cheese and, if you want, more fresh-ground pepper or some fresh herbs like parsley or chives. Stir to combine, and let the Swiss cheese get all ooey-gooey-melty. Have some Parmesan on the side for grating and serve with a green salad, and you’ve got one heck of a lovely turnip dinner.
For the record, my sister–who only ever associates turnips with mashing and of which she is not a fan–stopped by the night we made this. I asked her if she wanted to try a little; she stayed for a whole plate. It has the power to convert. Don’t be afraid. Just take the leap.