This is a simple pasta centering on a single ingredient – the turnip, a member of the brassica family. Many brassicas are trendy. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed lots of kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts side dishes at restaurants in Brooklyn and Portland. No wonder. These vegetables take wonderfully to many forms of cooking, whether shredded raw in a salad, slow roasted and caramelized or baked until crisp. Battersby in Brooklyn won tons of press for its crispy kale in fish sauce last year, and recently I have seen variations on a whole roast cauliflower or cauliflower steak. But turnips are an untrendy brassica, a little more pungent and mustardy than kale or cauliflower. Not fair. Turnips roast perfectly brown, with a nice juiciness and just a hint of their raw bite. And they make a wonderful pesto — blend with a little olive oil and you will have a plenty rich dish without going overboard on the nuts or cheese.
2 cups dry short tube or corkscrew pasta (I like any whole-wheat type made in Italy, or Lidia’s brand)
1 large parsnip, peeled and cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
stalks of 1 bunch cilantro, well rinsed, dried and chopped
1T olive oil
salt + pepper
handful of pine nuts
parmesan or pecorino
Preheat oven to 350. Set pot of salted water to boil. Boil pasta until al dente. Set a colander over a bowl or measuring cup and drain pasta, saving water. Set pasta and water aside.
Toss cubed parsnips in large bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, hot peper and oregano. Lay on baking sheet lined with foil and roast for about 40 minutes. You want parsnips well-browned on outside while chewy and juicy inside. Remove sheet from oven and set aside.
Pulse garlic and cilantro stems in a food processor with 1T olive oil. Set aside about a quarter cup of parsnips and add the remainder to food processor. Add about a half cup of cooking water and pulse until sauce is thick and smooth. Add salt, pepper and olive oil to taste.
Toss pasta with pesto in a sauce pan until well coated and warm on low flame. Add extra cooking water as needed.
Meanwhile, warm toaster oven on 350. Chop reserved parsnip in small chunks and lay on foil with a handful of pine nuts. Bake for five minutes, until nuts are just browned.
Serve pasta immediately with toasted nuts and parsnip chunks. Top with grated pecorino or parmesan or omit for a vegan dish.