Rooting for Rutabaga

Rooting for Rutabaga

I was at my local monthly Slow Food meeting last week when the topic turned to canola. Here in the Willamette Valley, the controversy over introducing canola has grown greatly. Described by some as a “one way street,” it seems that once canola is introduced to an area, it’s damn near impossible to eradicate — posing huge problems for seed growers and non-GMO supporters up and down the valley.

Slow Food Eugene is a passionate group, and at one point in the discussion a man cried out “Just think of the brassicas!” And think of brassicas I did.

Also known as cruciferous vegetables, brassicas encompass anything from mustards to cabbages. Included are kohlrabi, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and rape seed (aka the dreaded canola). However, when this man shouted for me to think of the brassicas, one unassuming little root stood out; rutabaga to be exact.

Also called swede (for Swedish turnip) or yellow turnip, the rutabaga is thought to be a cultivated cross between a wild cabbage and a turnip. For those unfamiliar with the root, it has a purple exterior and yellow-orange flesh that stays firm and lightly sweet even after roasting. Unless you’ve got the genotype PAV/PAV, which makes rutabagas too bitter tasting to bear, there is no reason not to love this little root.

In fact, outside of Germany (where too many older Germans have not so fond memories of being force-fed rutabaga’s during famine years of WWII), the rutabaga is a staple for many Northern Europeans, especially Scandinavians. Let’s put our foot down and kick it root down, with five ways to love rutabaga.

1. Cawl

The traditional Welsh stew cawl (pronounced cowl) is a rich, one-pot broth often made with lamb. Think of it as a Welsh chicken noodle soup — there’s no correct or proper way to make it, just a lamb neck and a handful of root vegetables simmered together and eaten with crusty bread. Many recipes refer to the rutabaga as a “swede,” just swap out the term in your head.

2. Swede Casserole

Also known as “lanttulaatikko,” swede casserole is a Finnish dish usually served at Christmas dinner as a side to accompany ham or fish. This dish is perfect for fans of sweet potatoes with those little marshmallows on top — it’s got sweetness from the rutabaga along with nutmeg, ginger and almond milk.

3. Neeps and Tatties

I’m a sucker for anything with a vaguely cheeky name and it’s no different when it comes to neeps and tatties. The side dish is a must-have for any Scottish Burns Supper, accompanying haggis. Not a fan of haggis you say? Perfectly acceptable, for neeps and tatties is only innocent mashed rutabagas and potatoes. Feel free to swap in roast chicken or pork tenderloin for the offensive Scottish delicacy.

4. Pasty

Some call it a Cornish pasty, others call it a hand pie filled with meat. I call it delicious. Buttery, flaky pastry surrounds a little pork, a little leek, and a little rutabaga. Vegetable enthusiast Nigel Slater agrees, and offers a wonderful pasty recipe — along with a few other ways to use the ol’ swede.

5. Fries

Just because we call it a rutabaga while everyone else calls it a swede, I figure I’ve got to have one decidedly American favorite on the list. I’m not claiming we invented the fry (I’m pretty sure the Belgians did) but we Americans love anything that can be deemed a fry. Potatoes, yams, I’ve even had beet fries! So here we go, oven “fried” rutabaga fries. It’s a no brainer.

The Chaser:

Read the scathing review of Guy Fieri’s new Times Square restaurant last week? Watch the SNL version of Guy’s reaction that didn’t make it to the regular broadcast.

Looking to perfect your holiday pie techniques? Start with crimping 101 and move onwards and upwards over at Serious Eats.

I can’t resist one more rutabaga recipe — this one from Food 52 features the swede with ham, mascarpone and pear baked into a rustic tart.