“So, have you done neeps and tatties, then…?”
My colleague was not referring to some strange ritual, but simply wanted to know if I had given the legendary Scottish combination of turnip and potato the Daily Spud treatment, to which I had to answer, well, no, not yet. Until today, that is…
I should first clarify that what the Scots refer to as neeps, or turnips, are what we in Ireland commonly call turnips, but go by the name of swede in England and rutabaga in the US (confused yet?). The turnip I’m talking about is yellow-fleshed and sweet. Here’s a picture, which may be useful for identification purposes later.
When the Scots talk about neeps and tatties, they mean (yellow) turnip and potatoes, boiled and mashed separately, and traditionally served with haggis as part of a Burns Night supper. I was reminded of the combination when I found myself with a profusion of turnips, due to the fact that they have been turning up, as is their wont, with great regularity in my organic vegetable deliveries.
Now, it has to be said that turnips are not the most popular of vegetables, and I have reported on my difficulties with said vegetable previously. However, I know (as the Scots do) that turnip and potato are good pals and figured that it was about time I tried something a little different with the pair of them. So away with the masher and, instead, I came up with a gratin featuring neeps, tatties and a few, perhaps less traditional, ingredients. Not sure what the Scots would make of it, but I rather liked it all the same.
Potato and Yellow Turnip Gratin with Lemongrass
Take a very simple gratin of potato, milk and butter, like the one described by Deb at Smitten Kitchen, add yellow turnip (not such an unusual thing to do) but also throw in some lemongrass, ginger, spring onion and yoghurt (somewhat less than usual, methinks) and you end up here. Which is to say fairly far away from the Scottish notion of neeps and tatties.
The main flavour is the lemongrass, backed up by the ginger, which together provide a nice contrast to the turnip’s sweetness. In this, I took inspiration from Carmel Somers of the The Good Things Café in West Cork, who suggests the turnip plus ginger combination. It’s a fairly light dish, lacking the cheese and/or cream you often find in potato gratins, and using milk and yoghurt instead. And, sure, no harm in that.
- Makes side-dish servings for 5-6, or feeds 3-4 if serving as a lunch dish on its own. I will admit to having eaten half of this quantity at one sitting, but that might not be the best yardstick to use (unless, of course, I am one of those people that you are feeding, in which case, take note). Takes approx. 30 min to prep + 1 hour to bake.
- 600g potatoes (about 3 medium-sized specimens), preferably a waxy variety
- 450g yellow turnip / swede
- 1.5l water
- 1.5 tsp salt plus more for sprinking on the gratin
- 3 tblsp butter, divided
- 6 spring onions, finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tblsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 stick lemongrass
- 150g natural yoghurt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 300ml whole milk
You’ll also need:
- A gratin dish, mine was 30cm x 24cm and about 5cm deep. A mandoline is useful for slicing the potatoes and turnips, though not essential, and a spice or coffee grinder is useful for grinding the lemongrass, otherwise you’ll need a very sharp knife so that you can chop it very finely.
- Preheat your oven to 180C.
- Peel the potatoes and the turnip and slice both very thinly – if you have a mandoline, by all means use it to do the job for you.
- Bring about 1.5l water to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan, add about 1.5 tsp salt and the sliced turnip. Allow to boil for about a minute, then drain.
- Slice the first 10-15cm of the lemongrass stick (discarding the straw-like top), then grind the slices finely in a spice or coffee grinder (or just chop them as finely as you can).
- Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add about 1 tblsp of butter. When that has melted, add the spring onions and stir and fry for about 2 minutes, until the white parts are just starting to turn translucent.
- Add the garlic, grated ginger and ground lemongrass to the pan and stir and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Remove from the heat and combine with the yoghurt.
- Rub the base of your gratin dish with some butter. Add a layer of potatoes, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add a layer of turnip and spread with half of the yoghurt mixture, then season as before with salt and pepper. Repeat with another layer of potatoes, turnip and yoghurt, seasoning as you go, and finish with a layer of potatoes.
- Pour the milk over the gratin, dot with the remaining 2 tblsp butter and place in the oven. Bake for about an hour or until the vegetables are soft and the top is golden. I also took Deb’s advice and, after about 30 minutes, pressed down the top of the gratin to make sure it remained moist.
- Enjoy on its own for lunch or perhaps alongside a piece of pork or somesuch for dinner. Who knows, it might even go nicely with some haggis.
- Being a ginger fiend, I would be tempted to add even more ginger next time. I would also probably try adding about a tsp of black mustard seeds at the start of frying, before adding the onions. For a richer dish, you can, of course, replace some or all of the milk with cream if you like.