Rutabagas, also known as “Swedish turnips,” have little resemblance to their namesake, for this root can weigh several pounds. Its texture is harder and drier, and its flavor is distinctly bitter. If treated with care, however, this sturdy root with its broad purple shoulders is quite pretty when peeled to reveal its golden flesh.
The sharp taste is deliciously tamed with butter and cream; citrus and honey also soften the edge. Paired with milder, sweeter root-vegetable cousins — carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips — they spark flavor through contrast.
Rutabagas are native to northern climates — Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, as well as Scotland, England and Wales. Stateside, they figure into pasties on Minnesota’s Iron Range. The small town of Cumberland, Wis., has been celebrating this humble root for 83 years with its Annual Rutabaga Festival (always the weekend preceding Labor Day).
Rutabagas store well for several months in a cool, dark place. Some growers coat their rutabagas with wax to preserve moisture, so be mindful when peeling, as it can stick to the knife. The root’s sunny color makes a bright addition to soups and stews. Because they are hard and tough, rutabagas are best steamed or blanched in salted water before adding to sautés, stir-fries, soups and stews.
Too often this simple, hardy vegetable is relegated to the bottom of the produce bin. It’s time to rediscover this root.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor. Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.