It’s always reaffirming when a little known, ‘waste’ ingredient suddenly takes off and becomes a sought-after product for based solely on its flavour.
That’s what has happened to the humble turnip top, known in the South of Italy as cime di rapa, in the UK. Usually discarded in Britain, but a staple ingredient in Puglia, cime di rapa, or turnip leaves have a delicious, sharp, bitter flavour and are excellent in traditional pasta dishes such as orecchiette con cime di rapa.
Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli serves a variation of this dish at Locanda Locatelli, his Michelin-starred restaurant in London’s West End with the addition of chili and anchovy and it’s going down a storm with his customers.
‘Turnip tops is traditional peasant food,’ he said. ‘People in Northern Italy tease those from Puglia about eating turnip greens. But they can be delicious in so many ways. Cime di rapa has a slightly bitter flavour and is very easy to cook and very versatile. I don’t really know why it isn’t grown commercially here as it could be done easily'.
The Italian chef, who has a house in Puglia added: ‘It’s definitely become very fashionable, especially as people are eating more vegetables or following a vegetarian or vegan diet.’
Cime di rapa is known as ‘peasant food’ in Italy, however, the high cost of the leafy greens in the UK is attributed to transport costs, with many restaurants working directly with Italian suppliers. As we know, where there is demand, there is always local supply and many UK-based growers are now turning to the turnip top as the yield is high and they grow quickly.
The traditional turnip can take two years for the root to develop, whereas the leaves are ready to harvest within 45 to 180 days. The British climate is perfect for cime di rapa as it likes to grow in the cold.