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Gilfeather turnip soufflé hot from the oven.

Food and Drink / Column

Celebrate the humble Gilfeather turnip

Vermont’s official state vegetable makes a great soup or soufflé

Dorothy Grover-Read’s culinary talents can be found on her blog, “The New Vintage Kitchen” (vintagekitchen.org), billed as “[a] Vermont innkeeper’s collection of classics reimagined for today’s kitchen.” She is also working on a cookbook.

BELLOWS FALLS—Turnip soufflé? I know.

Turnips are a common vegetable, peasant food, abundant in heartiness, sharp in taste, and modest in appearance. Some would even say ugly.

“Soufflé” brings to mind images of French restaurants and fancy brunch with champagne.

Can these two create a happy marriage?

After the first hard freeze in Southern Vermont, farmers start harvesting the Gilfeather turnip. This hardy local vegetable, our “official state vegetable” (complete with an annual festival), is sweeter and creamier than the usual turnip, more closely resembling rutabaga in mildness.

This turnip was developed by John Gilfeather of Wardsboro just after the turn of the last century, and his variety was a local favorite. He protected his seeds like a miser, but eventually others did come into the possession of the precious secrets. They were trademarked in the 1970s, designated an heirloom, and in 2016, named the state vegetable.

That’s a long road for a humble vegetable to travel!

I hunted my first batch of Gilfeathers last week at a local farm stand and started off with a flavorful soup to which I added roasted garlic. They are also good just steamed and topped with butter, or roasted in the oven at high heat along with a few onions.

But with a couple of turnips left to cook, I looked online for some inspiration and surprisingly found several versions of turnip soufflé!

I loved the idea and, as my starting point, I fiddled with an older recipe of my mother’s for carrot soufflé. Wanting to keep it dairy free so my whole family could enjoy it, I resisted the urge to make a béchamel.

I proceeded with standard soufflé technique, but stuck to the eggs. I added my own French twists and turns, including the last of my French tarragon from this year’s garden.

I finally settled on this incarnation. This side dish will pair well with many mains, but is also great for a simple weeknight supper with a simple salad — that’s how we enjoyed it. It could easily serve as a Thanksgiving side as well.

Gilfeather turnip soufflé

You will need four cups of leeks and carrots, in whatever combination you like.

Look for the turnips at local farm stands and in your winter CSA. If you cannot find Gilfeather turnips, substitute a purple-topped turnip, or mix of these and rutabaga. You can omit the carrot altogether, but I think it enhances the flavor. You can also make these using leftover turnips from another meal, even quicker!

Also, if you can find the green turnip tops, chop them up and throw them in within the last couple of minutes, when the leeks are cooking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Chop:

¶3 cups Gilfeather turnips

¶1 large carrot

Place in a pot and bring to a boil with a little salt. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook until tender. Once tender, drain and mash.

While vegetables are cooking, combine in a large skillet:

¶2 Tbsp. Butter

¶2 cups leeks, minced

¶1 Tbsp. fresh French tarragon

Cook until leeks are tender, but not browned. Add the turnips, and set everything aside to cool.

In a small bowl, beat:

¶4 egg yolks

¶1 Tbsp. grainy French mustard

¶{1/4} tsp. cayenne pepper

¶1 Tbsp. dark maple syrup

Add to the cooled vegetables.

In a larger bowl with a hand mixer, beat to stiff peaks:

¶4 egg whites

Mix about {1/4} of the egg whites into the vegetable combination, then gently fold in the rest of them. Place the mixture in a buttered oval casserole dish, and top with:

• 2 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, optional

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned and solid in middle.

C’est magnifique!

Gilfeather turnip and roasted garlic soup

In a large stock pot, combine:

¶2 Tbsp. olive oil

¶2 Tbsp. butter, unsalted

¶1 cup diced onions

¶3 cups diced leeks

¶1 large carrot, diced

¶2 ribs celery, diced

Sauté until the onions and leeks are translucent but show no color.

Add:

¶{1/2} cup dry white wine

Continue cooking for five minutes. Add:

¶2 lbs. diced Gilfeather turnips

¶1 or 2 large potatoes

¶4 cups vegetable stock or water

¶1 bay leaf

¶Salt and pepper to taste

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are all soft and the flavors have had plenty of time to mingle.

While the soup is simmering, roast:

¶2 whole heads of garlic

Cut the tops off the garlic and remove any loose skin. Place in the center of a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Close the foil tightly and place in a 450-degree oven. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and squeeze the pulp out of the garlic heads. It will pop right out. Add it to the pot of soup.

Using a hand immersion blender (the easiest way), regular blender, food processor, or food mill, purée the soup mixture. You will have to do so in batches if you are not using the hand blender.

Return the mixture to the pot over low heat and add:

¶2 cups milk or cream of choice, optional

You could use half-and-half, light cream, soy milk, light coconut milk, and other dairy substitutes. You can also add more stock or water at this point to thin, and omit the milk component altogether. Correct the seasoning if necessary.

Serve as is, or top with some fried shallots or fresh scallions. Make 10 hefty cups of soup.

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jill dean
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Nov 2018
jill dean (Wardsboro, Vermont, US)

I do have one big Gilfeather turnip and will have to try making this new soup recipe with carrots. Thank you!

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Anita
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Nov 2018
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Anita (Wardsboro, Vermont, US)

Thank you for these great recipes!

 
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Originally published in The Commons issue #484 (Wednesday, November 7, 2018). This story appeared on page B5.

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