Monica Chen is a FoodCorps service member serving with Wellness In The Schools. She serves at PS 50 and PS 112 in East Harlem as well as at PS 20 in Chinatown.
Last Monday, I had the honor of organizing the first garden taste test at PS 50 The Vito Marcantonio School (read about their new garden here). The school has a partnership with the New York Horticultural Society (NYHS)–every Tuesday, a garden teacher from NYHS leads two classes in engaging activities and lessons. I decided to offer a tasting of the turnips at the tail end of both garden classes. I had been keeping my eyes on a bed filled with turnips that were slowly wiggling their way out of the soil begging to be harvested.
Originally, I had planned on simply roasting the turnips with some of the garden’s herbs in the cafeteria kitchen. Then, the night before the tasting, I stumbled upon Vic’s, a restaurant in Lower East Side, with my friend. Coincidentally, a turnip dish was the recommended appetizer that evening. As the waitress introduced it, I could not stop giggling from anticipation—she’s probably never seen anyone that excited for turnips. The turnips were served raw and thinly sliced. Dots of turnip greens pesto and pecorino cheese brought punches of savory flavor to the slightly spicy turnips. The use of all parts of the turnip in the dish and its combination of exciting flavors convinced me to add this variation of the root vegetable to the tasting menu for PS 50.
Tuesday–GO TIME. After the students harvested the turnips, I served them two ways–roasted with garden herbs and raw with turnip greens and basil pesto (recipes below). The garden lesson that day had been on herbs, so I was able to reinforce the students’ new knowledge into my presentation of the two dishes. I taught the students what the main components of a generic pesto sauce were and, after the tasting, had them explore how the flavor of the turnip changed after being roasted. I also emphasized the sustainable practice of using all parts of a plant in cooking by highlighting how the raw turnip dish used the turnip’s leafy greens in the pesto. Many students came up to me afterwards for seconds! I then took the leftover pesto and transformed it into a dressing for the cafeteria’s salad bar.
It was incredible to see students so enthusiastic about the new flavors they experienced in the tasting. Thanks to the amazing cafeteria kitchen staff, the school’s garden coordinator, the NYHS garden teacher, and the school teachers, I was able to show the students how the plants they were getting to know in the garden could be transformed into tasty bites. TURN UP!
TURNIP GREENS & BASIL PESTO
- 4 turnips, sliced thinly
- 1 cup basil
- 1 cup turnips greens
- 2 cloves garlic
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- ½ cup parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated (optional)
- pine nuts (optional)
- salt and pepper, to taste
Chop the tops of the turnips off and save the greens for the pesto. Slice them very thinly. Combine basil, turnip greens, garlic, and nuts in a blender or food processor (you can also finely chop the ingredients if you don’t have a blender or food processor). Blend the contents and while the blender is still on, slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture into a bowl an mix in the grated cheese. Drizzle the pesto over the thinly sliced turnips. Tip: extra pesto can be stored in the freezer and used in pasta, on meat, as a salad dressing, and more!
- turnips, cut into ½ inch wedges
- a sprig of rosemary (fresh, if possible)
- a sprinkling of oregano (fresh, if possible)
- a small handful of thyme (fresh, if possible)
- a dash of cinnamon
- salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat over to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, place the turnip wedges and coat with olive oil. Add the herbs as well as a dash of salt and pepper. Toss the turnips to coat them evenly with the herb mixture. Roast for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.