Members of the cabbage family, turnips and rutabagas usually begin to appear in produce aisles and farmers’ markets in October and disappear by late February or March. Their mild, sweet flesh and earthy flavor make them a versatile addition to the succession of root vegetables that usually grace our winter tables. Turnips’ white and pinkish-purple bulbs (the color comes from exposure to sunlight, indicating the part that grew above the ground) can be baked, boiled, sautéed, roasted, braised, mashed, fried, or even sliced and eaten raw. Their greens can be enjoyed like any other leafy green: sauté them with butter and garlic, or stew them with salt pork as they do in the South. Rutabagas, a hybrid of turnips and cabbage, are larger and generally sweeter than turnips; try them boiled and mashed with butter, baked into a decadent and comforting gratin with Gruyère and potatoes, or substitute them for eggplant for a twist on Sicilian caponata.
HOW TO BUY
Look for firm, solid vegetables with unblemished skin that feel heavy for their size. Avoid very large specimens, four inches across or more; they can have a tough, woody texture and unappealing taste. If still attached, the leaves should be green and fresh-looking, without any dark spots.
HOW TO STORE
Wipe away any dirt that may still be on the vegetables, keeping them dry. Cut off the greens and store bulbs and greens separately in plastic bags in your crisper. The greens will stay fresh for four to five days; the bulbs will last longer, up to a month.
HOW TO PREPARE
Clean the leaves as you would any green leafy vegetable, with lots of fresh cold water. Trim the tough parts of the stems and then shred the leaves or keep them whole, depending on use. Rutabagas should be peeled; for turnips and very young rutabagas with thin skin, peeling is optional.