Rutabagas or Swedes: An Autumn Bonus
This my dears, is a rutabaga as it is known in the U.S. or Swede, as our neighbors and friends from around the world call it. It is from the Brassica family (cabbage) and is a root vegetable. It takes far longer to mature than a turnip and the flesh is a pale yellow. Rutabagas are largely grown in Canada which exports them. You've likely seen them in the grocery store and thought they were rather ugly with their mottled and heavily waxed skin.
I've eaten rutabaga for all my life in the autumn and winter months. In my family they were a much looked forward to seasonal food. 40 odd years ago a rutabaga was a strong tasting, almost bitter root but not so much anymore. Katie, my most picky of all children, loved when I'd cut a rutabaga into sticks and make oven baked fries from them. I like them served mashed with butter and pepper. Look on your grocery shelves and you'll likely find cans of diced rutabaga which might be heated and served as they are.
They are now more delicate with a distinctive taste that is all their own. I love to use Robin Miller's pot roast recipe which calls for rutabaga as well as potatoes and carrots and is so delicious...and from one of my favorite reading cookbooks (meaning I read it more often than I cook from it) the one tried and true recipe calls for a chilly rainy autumn day, and a steaming pot of rutabagas cooked with spare ribs. There's a hearty warming dish!
I bought a small rutabaga late last winter and photographed my steps in preparing it as a mashed vegetable side dish. John is no fan of this luscious root veg, so I put extras in the freezer and brought them out periodically when I had a craving which was about once a week. They are rich in iron and vitamins A, B, and C, so perfect for fighting off cold weather illnesses.
First you must peel the rutabaga, even if it is not heavily waxed, as the skin is tough and thick.
Be sure to use a good heavy knife and work slowly, taking your time. You can see I'd already made several cuts on this one.
Then cut into slices or dice (I find slices are easier unless I am making the pot roast recipe) and cover with water.
Salt and bring to a boil, then lower heat a bit and cook until fork tender. Now at this point you can well add a piece of bacon or seasoning meat. Smoky cured meats really suit the taste of this vegetable. I skipped that step and instead added butter after I'd drained the rutabaga well,
Plenty of black pepper and a couple dashes of liquid smoke.
You can serve the rutabaga just like this...
but I really prefer to mash them. They have a creamy quality even without the butter that is really nice when they are mashed.
They are the perfect accompaniment to fried chicken, cubed steak or pork chops.
Keep your eyes open at the market and pick up a small one and experiment with it at home. They are generally less than $.50 a pound and really are a great seasonal food for Fall and Winter. I can't buy them at Aldi but will venture into the local grocer where they are often to be found this time of year, as they are a favorite of Southern country folk. We Southerners know a good thing when we find it!