Turnips usually have creamy fleshed ivory skin, and a purple cap. Some varieties are capped with green, red, white, or even black. Very young turnips are tender and have a mild, sweet flavor. The firm flesh of mature turnips has a strong mustardlike taste that mellows and becomes sweeter when cooked.
Turnips are generally best during the late autumn and early winter. Roasting these roots brings out their distinctive sweetness. They can also be added to soups and stews, puréed or mashed, or baked into a simple side dish.
Choose turnips that are unblemished and firm. Choose large roots that are heavy for their size.
Baby turnips should be separated from their greens and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks (the greens can be saved for cooking separately).
If you have baby turnips, simply peel and trim for cooking whole. If mature turnips have a strong smell, blanch for 3 to 5 minutes to remove some of the harshness. Prepare turnip greens as you would beet greens: rinse well and spin dry.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano (Weldon Owen, 2010).