October 27th, 2011
Rutabaga is a relatively young vegetable. Born in the seventeenth century, it is the offspring of the natural cross-pollination of turnip and wild cabbage. Its ability to grow in cooler climes made it a popular vegetable in northern Europe, Ireland, Scotland and Scandanavia. It was so popular in Sweden that a synonym for rutabaga is swede or Swedish Turnip. In Scotland rutabaga are known as neeps and are served mashed alongside haggis.
Most Ontario rutabaga are Laurentian -- round, densely fleshed with a bright purple and cream exterior. Like most root vegetables, rutabagas can be left in the ground through light frosts, which make them even sweeter. Generally about the size of a softball when harvested, but they can grow much larger, and can weigh up to five pounds. The larger roots tend to get tough and woody, so the smaller ones are the best choice when shopping for rutabagas.
Though its leaves are edible, the large, round root of the rutabaga is the real meat of the plant. Rutabagas have purple and tan skin, with a white interior. Though the root may appear rough and mottled on the outside, its flesh is smooth, with a fine texture and sweet flavour. The peel tends to be a little tough, so to peel a rutabaga, slice the ends off and trim each side off to create a block. This makes it easier to peel the rest of the rutabaga as you slice it.
Rutabagas are most often served cooked, but can also be eaten raw (try them finely grated in a salad). Roasted or mashed rutabaga is a traditional side dish to pork or beef; they add a nice zip to mashed potatoes and a great addition to a stew. Roasting rutabagas brings out their natural sweetness. Toss rutabaga cubes in olive oil, herbs, and some maple syrup and roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Try roasting rutabagas with other root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips.
Rutabagas are high in beta carotene and one serving contains 30% of the daily Vitamin A requirements and 35% of daily Vitamin C. They contain trace minerals such as potassium and magnesium and are low in calories and high in fiber.
Happy Halloween! In Ireland, the rutabaga was the first Jack-O-Lantern, as the roots were hollowed out and carried with glowing coals on Halloween.