At nearly five pounds, with a tough-looking texture and dark, stormy coloring, the rutabaga appears a formidable adversary. Its name even sounds intimidating. But supposedly, according to a recent article in The New York Times, “it’s the best vegetable you’ve never tried.” I was intrigued.
According to Susan Tyler Herbst in Food Lover’s Companion, “this root vegetable is thought to be a cross between a cabbage and a turnip.” She also shares that “the name comes from the Swedish rotabagge, which is why [it's] also called a Swede or Swedish turnip.” Rutabagas are in season throughout the cooler months, as most root vegetables are, from September to June. I was right on time.
I got to work cutting the beast down the middle, peeling it and slicing it into a half-inch dice. It really didn’t take long, but the initial cut through its nearly five-inch diameter took some strength.
I decided to prepare my rutabaga in two different ways, both mentioned in the article above. I tossed one half in a pan of salted boiling water and cooked it for 20 minutes. When it was tender, I drained and mashed it, and added a tablespoon of unsalted butter and a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. I left the peel on the other half and tossed the cubes in some olive oil, REAL maple syrup, salt and pepper. Then I roasted them for about 30 minutes, until the flesh was just tender, but not too soft.
The flavor was peppery like a turnip yet buttery like a squash. It had a fresh, clean taste, and wasn’t too starchy. The boiled rutabaga wasn’t silky smooth like mashed potatoes can be, but grainy and a little fibrous like squash. It was fine just the way it was but would also have tasted good with some fresh parsley sprinkled on top. The roasted version was also tasty. The maple syrup added the sweet flavors of fall. I also would have enjoyed it as part of a roasted root vegetable medley including sweet potatoes and onions with a little thyme.
Overall my rutabaga experience was a good one. I enjoyed it with Chicken Breasts Provencal, polenta and fresh spinach.
If you can get past the rutabaga’s intimidating exterior, you’ll find the delectable flavors coaxed out of this rooty beast make it worth your while to try it.