Rutabaga

About

Rutabaga (also called swede) is in the Brassica family, that of turnips and cabbage, and when you cut one open you get a very definite whiff of the cruciferous. Technically, rutabaga is actually a direct cross between cabbage and turnips, and it shares turnips' slightly bitter flavor. Raw rutabaga tastes milder than turnips though, almost like a carrot without sweetness. It's crisp, juicy, and just a tiny bit piquant.

In cooked dishes, though, that's where rutabagas shine. The rutabaga has a more mellow, golden appearance than turnips or potatoes, and when cooked it turns sweet yet savory — like the richest golden potato you can imagine. It's less starchy, but still very satisfying.

History

The rutabaga seems to have emerged from Sweden before 1400 A.D., which is why it was called "Swede turnip" or "Swede."

Spencer says rutabaga began its life in Bohemia in the 17th Century where it became a food for both man and beasts, but mostly for animals during the winter months. The Dutch brought the vegetable from the Netherlands to England in 1735 when it became known as "turnip-rooted cabbage. 

Cookbook author and food columnist Bert Greene in his book Greene on Greens credits the rutabaga's birth to Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin who crossbred a cabbage and a turnip in the 17th Century. Greene writes, "The rutabaga traveled to the United States in 1806. It appeared in a seed catalog with the name; "South of the Border Turnip."

Health Benefits

Rutabaga's most significant nutrient comes from vitamin C. One cup contains 53% of the daily recommended value, providing antioxidants and immune system-supporting functions that help protect the cells from free radical damage. Although rutabagas provide only 5% of the iron needed for healthy blood on a daily basis, vitamin C enhances its absorption, while helping to form both collagen and the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which protect cells against damage, encourage wounds to heal, fight infections, and promote healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels.

Beta-carotene-rich rutabagas are also an excellent source of potassium and manganese (for energy), and a good source of fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6 (helps support the nervous system), calcium (for strong bones), magnesium (helps absorb calcium and combat stress), and phosphorus (helps metabolize proteins and sugars).

To Use

Nutty and sweet with a mild turnip-like flavor, rutabagas can be roasted, sautéed, baked, fried, boiled, mashed, and added to soups and stews. They also can be eaten raw as a snack or grated into salads or coleslaw. A mix of mashed rutabagas, potatoes, onions, and carrots, seasoned with butter and salt, is a hearty, warming dish.

Recipe

Creamy, Smoky Whipped Rutabaga

makes 8 servings

3 1/2 to 4 pounds rutabagas (two small or one large vegetable) 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup whole milk 
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons smoked olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the rutabaga(s) in half crosswise. Place a half cut side down on a stabilized cutting board and carefully shave off the peel with a large chef's knife. (See an example of this method here, demonstrated with celery root.) Cut the peeled rutabaga into small slices about 1 inch thick. Repeat with the rest of the rutabaga.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy 4-quart pot, set over medium heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the chopped rutabaga and the garlic. Stir to coat the vegetables in butter, then sprinkle them with the salt. Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the rutabaga is very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the vegetables cool for about 5 minutes.

At this point you can either leave the rutabaga in the pot and use a hand mixer to whip it, or you can transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle.

Drop the cream cheese into the rutabaga and use the hand mixer or stand mixer to mash it into the vegetables. The rutabaga will crumble then slowly turn into a mashed potato consistency. Add the olive oil and smoked paprika and mix thoroughly. Taste and add more salt and some black pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Farmhouse Chowder

Serves 10

Perfect for Autumn!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
  • 8 to 10 cups water
  • 1 large onion, 1/2 left whole, 1/2 chopped
  • 2 carrots, 1 halved lengthwise, 1 cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 stems fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour, preferably Wondra
  • 1 small turnip, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 ounces rutabaga or parsnip, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped, for garnish
  • Vermont Common crackers, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

STEP 1

Place chicken, breast side down, in a large pot. Add enough water to just cover chicken. Add whole 1/2 onion, carrot halves, parsley, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, partially covered. Reduce heat, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove chicken, and let cool. Strain broth through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth into another pot, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes to reduce and intensify flavor. Shred chicken into bite-size pieces, discarding bones and skin.

STEP 2

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and diced carrot, and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Whisk in reserved chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Add turnip, rutabaga or parsnip, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat, and simmer until root vegetables are tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

STEP 3

Stir in reserved chicken and the cream, and heat until warmed through, about 1 minute. Season with salt, and garnish with dill. Serve immediately with crackers on the side.