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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Turn It Up

Mental food juggling. This is the time of year when my mind usually drifts away and fills with carnal thoughts of  holiday gluttony. Cerebral food orgies. This year, while thoughts of juicy turkey meat, moist dressing, lusty gravy, and rich side dishes dance through my head, I  have an event at work 4 days before Thanksgiving that has me focused on Puerto Rican  stewed pork (Carne de Cerdo Guisada) and fried pork skins (chiccarrones).

One day at a time.

Lately, I've had a wistful hankering for turnips. Ever year, one of my aunts prepares a small bowl of fabulous whipped turnips as a side dish for our family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Nestled among the gray-ish  turkey, rum-infused ham, giblet gravy, dressing, casseroles, jellied salads, cookies, cakes, and pies, her buttery whipped turnips always glisten under the overhead kitchen fluorescent lights.  One tiny bowl of turnips for 30 people. I've never snagged more than a single spoonful.

She says they're simple to prepare. Peel, boil, and mash. Her magic. While I've done everything with turnips except marry one, I haven't attempted her hallowed  method for delicate, light, and airy turnips. I patiently anticipate my yearly holiday rations.


With turnips on my brain, plans for Puerto Rican empanadas, shrimp mofungo, and ceviche were  immediately pushed to the back burner when I bagged 2 hefty purple-skinned Casey County turnips from the farmers market on a cold Tuesday morning.

Whipped turnips? Nope.

Turnip Souffle.
Souffles have a reputation for being finicky, but I think they're worth the small effort. Yes, they deflate. A lot of things in life deflate without tasting like an utterly  fantastic collapsed souffle. Who cares? Go with the flow. Even when they fall, their flavors and textures remain intact.

Before starting the process, I brought 5 large organic eggs to room temperature and separated them into 4 beaten yolks and 5  whites.

After peeling and dicing 2 large turnips (2 1/2 pounds), I plunged them into salted water and boiled them for 45 minutes.  When the turnips were fork tender, I drained them in a colander before pureeing them in a food processor and allowing them to cool.

I used a basic souffle base for a 6 cup souffle dish.  After melting 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over a medium flame, I added 3 tablespoons of flour to the butter and combined them to form a light roux (no color). When the roux pulled away from the skillet, I added 1 cup of warmed whole milk and whisked it to break up any lumps until it thickened, about 5 minutes. When the bechamel sauce napped the back of a spoon, I tempered the egg yolks  before incorporating them into the sauce along with 1 cup extra sharp aged white cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese, 1 cup of the turnip puree, fresh picked thyme, salt, and white pepper.

Turn it up.

I tossed the egg whites into a squeaky clean mixing bowl, added a pinch of cream of tarter, and beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they formed very stiff glossy peaks. To lighten the souffle base, I added 1/2 cup of the beaten egg whites before carefully folding (without over mixing) the remaining whites into the base.

After buttering  a 6 cup souffle dish, I dusted it with fine bread crumbs before filling it with the eggy turnip mix. I cranked the oven to 400 degrees, slid the souffle into hot oven, turned the temperature down to 375 degrees, and let it rip....without peeking. Hard.

While the souffle did its thing in the oven, I pan seared a thick ham steak in melted butter over medium high heat until the edges started to curl. When the ham caramelized,  I deglazed the pan with 1 cup of strong coffee spiked with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a splash of pure maple syrup. After turning the heat to low, I sliced the ham steak in half and let the two pieces gurgle in the sweetened red eye gravy/glaze.

Wine. No peeking.
After 40 minutes, I pulled the turnip souffle from the oven. As it quietly deflated, I double-swiped the ham steaks through the red eye glaze and topped them with slivered fresh Casey County red bell peppers before rolling large spoonfuls of puffed turnips to the side.

With sharp nutty undertones from the combined cheeses calming the slight earthy tang of the pureed turnips, the souffle was ridiculously light.

Like eating flavored air.                      

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