Nobody knows what a rutabaga is. Nobody in my house, at least.
When it showed up on the list of veggies to choose from in Eating with the Seasons, I decided to be adventurous. I don't think I've ever eaten a rutabaga before, and I certainly have never cooked one.
In my mind, I pictured rutabagas looking something like sweet potatoes. I was surprised when the veggies showed up to pull seven small purple and cream orbs from the produce bag. They were beautiful!
I ran a test with both JR and Marika (independently) to see if either could identify the object as a rutabaga. Turnips and jicama were their guesses, respectively. Nobody knows what a rutabaga is. But they will after tonight!
It turns out a rutabaga is a root vegetable, but is more similar to a turnip than a potato (in fact rutabagas are sometimes called "swedish turnips" and in much of the rest of the world, what we know as a rutabaga is actually what they call a turnip). They grow well in cold climates and are popular in Scandinavia, especially Sweden (they are sometimes also called "swedes"). Apparently, during World War I, the vegetable developed a bad rap in Europe: after grain and potato crop failures (plus war), large parts of the population were kept alive on rutabagas and little else. Because of this, the rutabaga developed the reputation of famine food and is rarely planted in some parts of Europe (like Germany).
What's nutritive about a rutabaga? I Googled it. They are rich in beta carotene and a good source of vitamin c, folic acid, and fiber.
How do you eat a rutabaga? Google again. What I found suggested that rutabagas are extremely versatile - they can be eaten raw, roasted, mashed. But having never eaten a rutabaga (at least not knowingly), which way would taste best? I decided that in order to answer that question, I'd have to try all three. Here's what I did:
Rutabaga Raw: Peel the rutabaga and cut into sticks. We ate it dipped in hummus. I think raw rutabaga has a texture similar to jicama and a taste similar to a turnip or radish. I later read that raw rutabaga is sometimes grated and made into slaws along with carrots and cabbage, which would probably be tasty. Alone the flavor was a little strong for me.
Rutabaga Mashed: Peel the rutabaga. Cut it into cubes and add to boiling water. Boil about 20 minutes, or until soft. Mash together with butter, milk or cream, and a pinch of black pepper. (Online sources suggested that this can also be made together with carrots - cut them into 1-inch pieces and add to the boiling water at the same time as the rutabaga.)
Rutabaga Roasted: Peel the rutabaga. Cut into chunks. Mix with olive oil, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a pinch of sea salt. Roast in a baking dish in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or until soft and caramelized. Again, carrots are a good addition here. (We only had a couple of carrots in the fridge and I love roasted carrots, so I put them all into this dish rather than try any in the mashed version.)
The vote on best preparation across JR, Marika, and myself was unanimous: roasted. In m opinion, the raw rutabaga was a little too astringent, the mashed a little bland, and the roasted were just right. Whereas boiling sucks flavor out of vegetables, roasting allows them to express a richer, sweeter flavor. And rich, sweet rutabagas, we found, are very tasty indeed!