These funky looking things are navets de Pardailhan and, here in Languedoc, we think they are the best turnips in the world. A true product of terroire, the black turnips are cultivated in the red clay soil surrounding the village of Pardailhan in the Hauts Cantons of the Hérault department, at the southern tip of the Massif Central.
Praised for its creamy-white flesh, peppery scent and delicate flavor of fresh hazelnuts, the root vegetable can be traced back to the Middle Ages and, throughout the centuries, has enjoyed a reputation that reached far beyond the region – local lore has it at the king’s table in Versailles, but no one knows for sure!
After World War II, as farmers left their land to more lucrative jobs in nearby cities, the turnip of Pardailhan almost disappeared. About ten years ago, a handful of producers created the association Lou Nap dal Pardailha to save the venerable root and bring it back to its former glory. You now can find them from October to early February at local farmers markets and on the menus of some of the best regional restaurants. The production is still very small and most of it remains within Languedoc’s boundaries.
In the kitchen, I discovered that the Pardailhan turnips prefer the stage to themselves. Throw them in a vegetable soup and they tend to loose their distinctive personality amidst the chorus of flavors. They can be enjoyed cold in salads either raw or blanched, and in gratins. But they shine most when cut in thick wedges, pan-roasted in duck fat and served with a braised pork or veal roast, or roasted duck. Local cooks recommend adding a pinch or two of sugar to underscore their sweet nutty flavors. Personally, I deem that their goodness doesn’t need any embellishment.
Braised Veal Roast with Turnips de Pardailhan
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
- 1 2-pound veal roast
- 8 large shallots
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine
- ½ cup chicken broth or water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large sprig of rosemary
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 6 to 8 turnips de Pardailhan, depending on the size (see note)
- 3 tablespoons duck fat
With a sharp knife, make eight incisions on all around the roast and insert a piece of garlic in each one.
Peel the shallots and halve or quarter them depending on the size. Mince the remaining garlic.
Heat the oil in a heat cast iron pot. Season the roast with salt and pepper and sear it on all side over medium-high heat. Remove from the pot and pour off most of the fat from the pan. Deglaze with the wine and broth or water, and reduce by half. Add the rosemary branch and the bay leaf and return the roast to the pot along with the shallots and minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes, for medium rare. Remove the roast from the pot and let it rest, loosely covered for 10 minutes. Discard the rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Keep the shallot sauce warm.
Meanwhile, peel and rinse the turnips. Halve them crosswise and cut into thick wedges.
Heat the duck fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turnip wedges, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with the hot fat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the turnips are lightly golden and soft.
To serve, slice the roast and arrange at the center of a serving platter. Surround with the turnips and serve immediately with the shallot sauce on the side.
Note: Chances are that you won’t find Pardailhan turnips where you are. If you do, let me know. Although not exactly the same, you can substitute black radishes or even purple top turnips caramelized in 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar, according to taste.