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Eric Akis: Raise a bowl of neeps and tatties soup for Robbie Burns

A stick-to-your-ribs, comforting soup combining neeps (yellow turnip/rutabaga) and tatties (potatoes) with a mix of flavour-enhancing ingredients. Make it a meal with a cheesy whole-wheat soda bread.
Hearty neeps and tatties soup is served with whole-wheat soda bread. ERIC AKIS

Robbie Burns Day is Wednesday and folks in Scotland and other places around the world will celebrate the late, great Scottish Bard with a range of events. A Burns supper will be among them and main dishes served will include haggis and roast beef accompanied with neeps and tatties.

Tatties is a Scottish term for potatoes. While neeps is a term for a yellow-fleshed turnip, that, in other parts of the UK, is often called a swede, a vegetable Sweden began exporting to places such as England in the 19th century.

In North America, those neeps are most often called rutabagas. A rutabaga is cross between a cabbage and turnip that originated hundreds of years ago that some call a yellow turnip because of its yellow flesh. Rutabagas are often larger than the white-fleshed, white/purple skinned turnips you’ll often see for sale beside them at food stores.

To make neeps and tatties, the vegetables are cooked, often mashed, and then served separately, or in a dish that combines the two. In my recipe I did the latter. And rather then serve the neeps and tatties as a side dish for a main course, I whirled them into a hearty, comforting soup that’s meat-free if you make it with vegetable stock. 

For added richness, though, I did drizzle servings of the soup with cream. And to create a filling meal, I served the soup with slices of fresh baked, whole-wheat soda bread accented with aged cheddar cheese.

Neeps and Tatties Soup

Stick to your ribs, comforting soup where neeps (yellow turnip/rutabaga) and tatties (potatoes) are cooked and blended with a mix of flavour enhancing ingredients.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 30 minutes

Makes: four servings

2 Tbsp butter or olive oil

2 cups (about 3/4 lb.) yellow turnip (rutabaga), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 medium onion, halved and sliced

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced

1 large garlic clove, chopped

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp dried thyme

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, plus more if needed

2 cups yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (see Note)

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

• whipping cream, table cream or half and half cream, to taste (optional)

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste

Melt butter, or heat the oil, in a medium pot set over a medium heat (my pot was eight-inches wide). Add turnip, onion and carrot and cook and stir four to five minutes. Mix in the garlic, nutmeg and thyme and cook and stir one minute more.

Add stock and potatoes to the pot and bring the soup to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust heat, as needed, to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer soup, uncovered, until vegetables very tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree the soup in a food processor or blender, or in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. Add a bit more stock to the soup if you find it too thick.

Set the soup back on the heat, return to a simmer, and taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle each serving with a little cream, if using, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Note: Three to four medium, yellow-fleshed potatoes should yield the cubed amount needed here.

Whole-Wheat Soda Bread with Aged Cheddar

Hearty, no yeast required, whole-wheat bread, rich with tangy cheese, you can slice and serve with the neeps and tatties soup.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes

Makes: one, about seven-inch round loaf

2 cups whole-wheat flour, plus some for kneading and shaping (see Eric’s options)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into tiny cubes

1 cup (about 75 grams) grated aged cheddar cheese

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 F. Set out a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper, unless non-stick.

Place 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add butter and with your fingers, two forks or a pastry cutter, work into the flour mixture until thoroughly distributed. Mix in the cheese.

Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Mix until loose dough forms. Turn dough on to a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour your hands, and knead and shape the dough, which should still be a little sticky, into a six-inch round, about two-inch thick, loaf.

Transfer loaf to the baking sheet. Cut a shallow cross on the top of the loaf. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until loaf springs back when gently touched in the centre. Let the loaf cool until warm or room temperature, slice and serve.

Eric’s options: If you prefer, you could replace the whole-wheat flour with all-purpose flour. Or use an equal mix of both flours.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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