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Crop Spot: Rutabaga

Rutabaga is an underappreciated winter root vegetable, often just noted for its funny name. While it may not seem special compared to other winter delights like potatoes and beets, rutabaga provides some memories of spring turnips. Rutabaga is a Brassica, related to some other winter favorites like cabbage, kale, and collard greens. Until the 20th century, the rutabaga was regarded as a variety of turnip rather than a separate vegetable. They are a cross between turnips and wild cabbage, crossed sometime during the Middle Ages by a Swedish botanist, hence its nickname “Swede turnip.” The rutabaga attracted attention in England for its potential in animal husbandry, for grazing and a cheaper addition to animal feed. They became part of our diets since they are easily stored over winter with their tough, waxy skins. 

In the Garden:

Rutabaga does best if planted in mid to late summer for a fall or early winter harvest, taking about 10-12 weeks for the roots to mature before harvest. They are sweeter than turnips and have the best flavor after a few frosts. A week after planting they should germinate, and be thinned to 8+ inches or else they will produce small bulbs and tall tops. They enjoy soils rich in potassium in phosphorus, which can be achieved with the addition of bone meal and wood ashes to the soil. Rutabaga has poor productivity in clay soils and is subject to the same pests as turnips. If you are applying manure to your soils, only apply half the suggested amount where you will plant rutabaga, since they produce small bulbs in nitrogen rich soils. 

In the Medicine Cabinet:

Rutabaga are rich in vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, making them great for digestion. 

Its high level of potassium can help regulate blood pressure as well. While they are a starchy root vegetable, rutabaga is lower in sugar than potatoes, both of which can be healthy sources of carbohydrates in your diet. 

In the Kitchen:

The most common way to incorporate rutabaga is mashed! It is delicious with other mashed root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips and carrots, with a hefty chunk of butter. The leaves of the rutabaga are edible and tasty as well! Toss them in sauteed dishes as you would with other leafy greens. You can even eat thin slices of the root raw as you would with turnips, or toss them in a crunchy raw salad

One restaurant even turns rutabagas into noodles (“roodles”?)! Because they are so large, these long, mild tasting noodles take nicely to any sauce. Try this recipe from a truly lovely ode to rutabagas from the New Yorker.

Rutabaga Noodles in Cacio e Pepe

Ingredients:

  • 1 large rutabaga
  • 9 tbsp. cold butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallot
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese, to taste
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • Minced chives, for garnish

Method:

1. Prepare the rutabaga noodles: Remove the thick, brown outer layer of the rutabaga with a paring knife or a sturdy vegetable peeler. Shave the rutabaga into thin ribbons using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler. Cut the rutabaga ribbons lengthwise into half-inch strips, and, if you like, square off the ends.

2. Make the beurre blanc: Cut 8 tablespoons of the butter into chunks and set aside in a cool place. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan and stir in the shallots and peppercorns. Cook, stirring, for about one minute, until the shallots are aromatic but not beginning to brown. Add the wine and cook until almost entirely reduced, with about two tablespoons remaining. Add the cream and salt and reduce again. (If the pan looks too dry, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.) Add the remaining chilled butter, one piece at a time, stirring briskly with a wire whisk with each addition, continuing to whisk until the sauce is shiny and thick. Strain out the solids (or keep the shallots and just fish out the whole peppercorns). Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Cover and keep the beurre blanc warm over low heat until the rutabaga pasta is ready.

3. Bring a pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add the rutabaga noodles and blanch for 3 minutes, until just barely softened. Strain the noodles and add them to the pot with the warm beurre blanc. Raise the heat to medium and gently toss the noodles in the butter sauce until the noodles are softened and the sauce clings to each strand, about 4-5 minutes. Serve topped with grated cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of chives.

Payge Lindow is the West Michigan Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at payge@localdifference.org 

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Photo Credit: High Mowing Seeds

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