The author (Waverly Root) of the food encyclopedia simply titled Food (1980), calls the turnip "a capricious vegetable"— "protean" is a another word he uses to describe it. The turnip season is brief, he says, adding: "The Paris restaurant where I used to eat that classic dish, duck with turnips (canard aux navets), when the management would permit it, served it only during six weeks in April and May. For the rest of the year, turnips were deemed unfit to eat."
Personally, I'm not so persnickety about turnips. I love them, for example, cooked in broth with carrots, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and spices and served with couscous, in summer or winter. But that's for another time; this is a post about canard aux navets. The slide show above features 10 photos I took during the cooking process yesterday.
It's very simple, really, to have qualified as a classic of French cuisine. I happen to have a 1960s-era translation of the Le Guide Culinaire, written by the great French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) and first published in 1903. Here's a summary of his recipe for duck with turnips:
Brown the duck or duck legs well in a skillet. Add some butter if you need to. Then take the duck out of the pan. Take the fat out of the pan separately and swirl it with a little white wine. Add some chicken or duck broth. Drop in an herb bouquet and, optionally, some sautéd carrots and pork lardons. Return the duck to this liquid and braise it gently on the stove or in the oven for about 40 minutes. The total cooking time depends on the duck you are cooking (how young and tender, or old and tough, the bird was).
While the duck is braising, trim and cut up a pound or more of spring turnips (navets nouveaux). Sauté them in another skillet with some butter or duck fat. Sprinkle sugar over the trunips and continue cooking them until they are glazed to a nice golden brown. Set them aside until the duck is cooked — partially cooked, that is, because it will still need to cook for another 30 or 40 minutes.
Add the glazed turnips to the duck and continue cooking everything gently until the duck and vegetables are tender. Put the duck in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables around it, and strain the cooking liquid (reduced or thickened as you like) over all.
There are more recent recipes in French here and here.