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Turnip TOPS OF THE POPS!! ( My Dads favourite Veggie )
Member Name: luigi0778
Advantages: A great bitter tasting green, Easy to grow, a fantastic ingredient, packed with vitamins
Disadvantages: Strong bitter taste not to everyones liking, hard to pronounce
Traditionally Turnips are thought of as a root crop, and are commonly grown and consumed as such. To be honest, im not a huge fan, but if home grown, picked when small, and eaten freshly, they are fairly delicious.
My main experience of them though, has been from the supermarkets. Where they are almost always available at close to 'animal feed' size, and consequently are unfortunately fairly bland tasting, even when combined with more powerful flavours. (Although saying that, creamy mashed Neeps with melted Gruyere through it, does taste incredibly nice).
Interestingly, and probably a surprise to many, the Turnip genus are a sub-species of the huge Brassica group. So that includes things like Cabbage, Cauliflowers, Broccoli, and even the yellow peril which has become popular amongst UK farmers recently, the Rape Seed plants (called Canola elsewhere).
However in Italy there is a particular variety of the Turnip family (latin name Rapa) which is grown specifically for its foilage and edible flower head, which are worlds apart in taste, and from a health point of view are extremely good for you, especially in comparison to the carbohydrate packed root crop.
The variety I am talking about, are called Cima Di Rapa [Chim-ah Dee Rapp-ah] or sometimes referred to in Italy as Broccoli Rapa. In the UK these are sometimes called Turnip Tops, although strictly speaking technically, they are a different sub-genus of the plant.
These are my dads favourite veggie, and form part of the vital ingredient for the famous classic Italian recipe "Orichette con Cima Di Rapa".
Basically this dish is the fried greens of the plant, with garlic an chilli, and after being tossed through with cooked and drained Orichette (little 'ear shaped' pasta shapes), the dish is finished with lots of a freshly grated ewes milk cheese, called Pecorrino Romano (which tastes similar to Parmesan, but is less harsh).
Typically the plants are available as a ready-to-cook crop, from large Italian grocers, and some premium supermarkets such as Waitrose. However if you live away from a large town or city, you will find them hard to come-by, so your best bet will then be to grow them yourself from seed.
The seeds used to be almost impossible to find, but thanks to the internet are readily available. A good place to find them is from the website "Seeds of Italy", (which I will review seperately once Dooyoo add it), this website is a hidden gem for any serious cooks, and is used by lots of Celebrity Chefs, including Jamie Oliver, and James Martin.
-Growing Your Own-
If your interested in trying to grow this variety, it really is simplicity itself. The plant is very fast growing, can grow in a range of climates, and has no specific soil requirements. The plant can go from seed to larder in between 40-60 days. In fact this is how the seeds are classified, 40 day seeds, and 60 days one (referrring to 'sow-to-harvest' days).
Grown from: Feb-Apr, then again from Aug-Sep,
Harvest: 40-60 days later.
Habitat: Any open soil, very little space required, can be grown amongst other plants if short of space. Can be grown in containers but will require careful watering to avoid premature bolting (flowering, before sufficient leaf growth is established).
These are best grown as direct scatter sown crops, so after preparing the soil to a fairly fine tilth (just the surface), you just scatter the seeds liberally (they are tiny), scatter some soil over to cover, water lightly and forget about them. The only real maintenance while they are growing, is to pick out any weeds and drop the occasional slug pellet near them.
Basically these will be ready to harvest, when you see the "flower" head forming. If you can imagine what a fine stemmed "Sprouting Broccoli" would look like, that is pretty much what you are looking for, but certainly harvest them up, before they physically flower.
To harvest, you just pull them out, and you keep all the nice looking leaves, and stems, including the unopened flowering heads.
-Things to Watch-
As with all Brassica plants, the biggest threat is from slugs/snails and caterpillars. The beauty of these though, is that they are vigorous growers, so most attacks can be repelled without the need for heavy use of chemicals. The odd slug pellett is advisable though, just to make sure you have a few decent leaves at least.
-Culinary Uses and Health-
These are basically best cooked lightly or rapidly, although I have never heard of anyone eating them raw. So probably best not too!
They readily lend themselves to things like Stir-Fries, being lightly steamed, or boiled, or being added to soups and casseroles.
The taste is quite bitter an peppery, reminds me a tiny bit of water cress. So if you pair them up with a suitable companion they really are a treat.
Most definately, they are a nice welcome change from regular Turnips, and are packed with vitamins and minerals, are a good source of fibre whilst being low in carbohydrates.
They contain as a rough guide, favourable amounts of:
Vitamins A (IU and RAE),
Folates, and contain Vitamin K (especially good for youngsters)
Minerals of note include:
Manganese and Selenium.
Summary: Probably one of the best tasting green out there, and incredibly healthy.
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