Pleased to finally meet you, Rutabaga
As winter drags on, the pickings are slim in the New York City farmers markets. As far as fresh produce goes, all I see in abundance these days are apples… and rutabagas.
So I figured it was high time to figure out what on earth a rutabaga was and how to prepare it.
Once I started looking into things, I was more than a little embarassed that I hadn’t bothered to meet this lovely root vegetable earlier.
For starters, rutabagas are cruciferous vegetables and members of the Brassica family— which is the same family as calcium-rich and cancer-fighting cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy and mustard greens. (They are often referred to as “yellow turnips,” and are in fact a cross between cabbage and turnip.) Unfortunately, rooty rutabaga has substantially less calcium than the leafy members of its family, but it makes up for this deficit with its other redeeming qualities. Namely, it contains the same cancer-fighting compounds as do its kinfolk, and 1 cup of boiled, cubed rutabaga contains 50% of the daily value for vitamin C, a mere 66 calories, 15g of carbohydrate and 3g of fiber. (That’s one starch exchange, by the way, in case you’re calculating a diabetic diet, or about half of the carbohydrate as in a similar portion of boiled potato with skin. Bargain!)
And to top off the nutritional scoop with a bit of rutabaga lore, I learned two very interesting tidbits from Wikipedia:
- There is an International Rutabaga Curling Championship every year at the Ithaca, NY Farmer’s Market (start warming up that rotator cuff of yours if you want to compete next year).
- Hollowed-out rutabagas were used in lieu of pumpkins for halloween jack-o-lanterns in the UK and Ireland before pumpkins made their way over there.
Nutritious AND fun? Where had this root been all my life??
So I consulted my friend Martha Stewart for some inspiration, and she reported that one popular way to enjoy rutabagas is as a boiled and mashed dish called “bashed neeps,” which would be served with haggis.
Yes, well. Perhaps I’d continue searching.
Most every other recipe I found was for mashed rutabaga alone or a medley of roasted or mashed root vegetables of which rutabaga was one. While this certainly sounded easy enough, I wanted something a little bit more special for my first time. Paula Deen had lots of rutabaga recipes, but I had to veto most of them… especially the one that called an entire stick of butter PLUS a half-pound of cream cheese (!). What’s the point of eating cancer-fighting vegetables only to die of a heart attack?
And then, in the depths of the web’s online recipe archives, I found my recipe: Vegetable Pot Pie with Wine Sauce and Polenta Crust. As you know, I’ve had polenta on the brain recently. And I loved the idea of a pot pie recipe that was vegetarian, cream-less and made with a crust that was both wheat-free AND butter/lard free.
The recipe looks a lot more difficult than it actually is. If you roast the vegetables in advance, then you can actually start on the sauce, polenta, assembly and baking about 30 minutes before you want to eat. I was blown away by how beautiful the medley of bite-sized vegetables looked before going in to roast: the potatoes, rutabaga, carrots and pepper created a beautiful sunset spectrum of white to gold to orange to red. The leek added gorgeous, almost neon-green confetti to the mix. And the mushrooms grounded the whole mixture with its earthy color and texture. While the veggies roasted, I tended to other matters around the house. And when it came time to assemble and bake, I decided to make my pot pies in individual 6″ souffle ramekins rather than in a big square baking dish. It made them look fancier, and allowed me to do both the baking and subsequent broiling seamlessly in my little toaster oven. The final product was surprisingly delicious: the wine, mushrooms and herbs de provence gave the dish a savory, earthiness that mingled perfectly with the sweet root veggies. And the baked polenta on top gave the dish a layer of creaminess that resembled the mashed potatoes atop a shephard’s pie. The recipe as it is written will make eight 6″ round pot pies; I halved it to make four, which it did precisely. You can serve it as the main event with a side salad for a light meal, or as part of a pub-inspired meal alongside a nice piece of simple grilled fish or perhaps a hearty, natural grilled chicken sausage (like Bilinski’s, for example).
As if it needs to be said, I think I’ll be spending a lot more time with my new friend Rutabaga while he’s still in town for the season…Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.