"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Is It???? The humble Rutabaga

I love rutabagas.....adore them!  I am literally sad when they get finished up at my house.  Even my kids think they are fabulous.  Curiously, most people react negatively when I mention this veggie so then I ask, "Have you tried it?"  I almost always get a sheepish, "No". 

What, in fact, IS a rutabaga? First off, it is an ugly little booger, but don't judge a book by its cover.  This root vegetable is a relative of the turnip, originally found in Sweden and brought to England.  By the late 18th century, it had (a-hem) "taken root" (giggle) in that country's culinary culture.  The rutabaga is larger and mellower than a turnip and a bit sweeter; larger than a softball and hard.  If you remember a while back I did a blog on gnocchi where I mentioned my strictly English/Scottish heritage.  I did some light research on Scottish food and found that the rutabaga is firmly established there.  They are called "neeps" in Scotland and served with "tatties" (potatoes) dished up with haggis!  They are used in English cooking as well, often cooked together with carrots and mashed.

My Mom hails from the Eastern Shore, Virginia and many of the things I ate growing up were directly influenced from that area of the country.  Settled by the English, the Eastern Shore is not affluent, but rich in seafood and produce, like turnip greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and our root vegetable of the day.  I grew up eating them cubed and cooked with a good portion of salt pork.  Mom's family called it "fat meat".  Mom would peel and cut up the rutabaga and boil them with the fat meat until they were super tender. The pale, yellow flesh of the rutabaga would deepen in color and soften in texture as they cooked for over an hour.

When you see rutabagas in the store, they covered in a layer of wax.  Rutabagas are harvested in the fall and dipped in wax to help them retain their moisture and not shrivel up so fast.  You can clearly see the wax layer in this photo.
The rutabaga must be peeled before you cook it.  They can be roasted or boiled...I grew up eating them boiled.  So, first things first, peel your rutabaga.  I find that a heavy duty vegetable peeler does the best job.  The one I have is from Pampered Chef.  It does quick work of hard winter vegetables like butternut squash and rutabagas!  Careful, though, this instrument is SHARP!

It is now ready for cutting into cubes.  This can be quite a task since the flesh is very dense.

After your 'bega, is cut into cubes.  Cover them with water, salt like you would for pasta, at least 2 t. salt. 
 Then add 2 T. of bacon grease......you heard me right, bacon grease!  I'm a typical Southern cook and I don't throw out my bacon drippings.  They stay in a jar on the counter.  If you don't have bacon drippings on hand, roughly chop 2 to 3 slices of bacon and add them to the pot.
Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for at least an hour.  They will be fork tender before they are completely finished cooking.  I actually test them by taking a cube out and popping it in my mouth.  If there is any resistance or crunch at all...I keep cooking them.  I like them to be completely soft.  After 60 or 70 minutes, they have deepened in color and are ready to eat!  Drain them, but don't throw out the water.  Use it as a stock for soup later!  The boiled rutabagas remind me a little of cabbage, a teeny bit of turnip and a whole lot of yum!
I realize that not everyone is going to LOVE rutabagas like me and my kids....Matt doesn't like them.  But if you've never tried it you should.   They are a good source of fiber and excellent source of Vitamin C.  If anything, you will increase your culinary knowledge and when someone asks you your opinion on rutabagas, you'll have first hand knowledge.

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