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Why swede, why now?

It’s the unsung hero of British root veg and a critical ingredient in one of Scotland’s most iconic dishes, but the humble swede offers some serious benefits this time of year that you could be overlooking. It’s been a poor year for potatoes, brought about in large part thanks to the excessive dry, hot summer we all basked in. This led to a smaller yield (and smaller potatoes in general) with comical reports in the Telegraph stating that chunky chips could be off the menu, and expect fries to be 3cm shorter.

In light of the potato ‘shortage’, you’ll likely be reaching for sweet potatoes and other roots to bulk out your mash topping of shepherd’s and cottage pies. In fact, with paleo diets and all things ‘wellness’ dominating lifestyle media, the swapping of potatoes to other roots is a sensible idea for menu appeal.

But there’s something more important at play with the swede. The inherent sweetness in this vegetable allows it to give a unique lift to dishes and with its density and heft, makes for a wholesome meat replacement in numerous vegan curries..

Slap some slices of swede in a root gratin, puree for ravioli fillings, or simply roast dusted in Parmesan and black pepper. This robust little thing can be an incredibly versatile ingredient to have up your sleeve and at a time when it’s right in season, you’d do well to get playful with it.

And yet there are still more potato substitutes you can use swede for, from using in gnocchi dough, to knocking up a version of champ or colcannon, folding in finely chopped spring onions or cabbage.

For children’s menus, you might win over a few parents by offering mashed swede and carrots instead of potato too, especially with peas folded in. Fish cakes also take on a new direction when binded with mashed neeps, that earthy sweetness complimenting oilier fish like salmon.

Less talked about, is the beautiful relationship the swede had with pork. Create patties with mashed swede and shredded slow cooked pork to be pan fried to order. Alternatively, bread crumb them and deep fry for a dipping pork and neep nugget.

Of course, a Burn’s supper wouldn’t be complete without this hardy, reliable root, while a pasty can’t be called Cornish unless swede is included in the filling. We have an enduring, albeit stagnant relationship with the vegetable, but it’s time we gave neeps the adoration and attention they deserve. Until now it seems we’ve been reluctant to capitalise on this rewarding vegetable, but with poor potato yields, increased enthusiasm for paleo diets, and the nutritional benefits derived from swede, now is the perfect time to make the most of it.


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