Produce of the Week - Turnips & Rutabagas
sponsored by Coleman Farms
It's more roots this week: Turnips and Rutabagas (or "Rutabega"). They're related, but rather than the rutabaga being a variety of turnip, it's apparently the result of a turnip crossing with a cabbage in a rather special way, with the result that the rutabaga seems to have incorporated both the turnip genome and that of the cabbage.
Though appearances suggest it expresses mainly the former, flavor and texture may suggest otherwise. The 'root' (actually an enlarged stem, as we've also seen with the Kohlrabi) of the rutabaga is firmer and sweeter than the turnip, rather more like cabbage stalk, in fact. The flavor of turnip 'root' tends to show it's kinship to mustard, while that of rutabaga has nutty and earthy elements with none of mustard's sharpness.
Asked how to prepare either of these, my initial response would be 'cut larger ones into pieces, steam and serve with pepper and butter or olive oil, or use in soup or stew'. But there are plenty of other ways, some not so obvious. I once went shopping with a friend who read off part of his wife's shopping list for me to get when we got to the super market. It was early October, and I was a bit dubious about one item, but the produce guy smiled and said 'we just got some in' and pointed to the rutabagas. The lady of the house, though, was puzzled rather than smiley. Why had we got a rutabaga, and where were her rubber gloves? She managed without the gloves, and found an imaginative recipe for rutabagas, which meets the description of 'honey glazed baked medallions of rutabaga'. It was o.k., but I think similar results could be reached by parboiling the rutabaga (sliced about 3/8" thick) and then slowly braising it (with or without the sugar, which in the link given here reflects regional cuisine).
A classic dish is Neeps and Tatties. North of the Tweed, a Rutabaga is a Neep, or Turnip*, and tatties are potatoes, of course. Neeps and Tatties can be served together either in pieces, or 'bashed', and either way the sweetness of the rutabaga compliments the flouriness and singular taste of the potato. If you've left the peels on the tatties, you've got some good nutrition, too, with both vegetables contributing a lot of vitamin C and the tattie skins contributing an array of B vitamins. There's lots of fiber, some sugars and a good bit of complex carbohydrates. If you've got leftovers, you can make patties and brown them in a bit of fat the next morning, or you can top them with some cheese and put them in the oven, or heat in a covered frying pan.
The 'nutritional value' (as distinct from 'food value') of rutabagas and turnips proper seems to be limited to providing a lot of vitamin C , potassium and carotone and traces of other things. The greens are something else, having loads of vitamins and minerals. The greens of root vegetables are often overlooked, which is a pity because both their nutritional and their gustatory properties go unused.
Turnip greens are quite similar to mustard greens in their appearance, texture and flavor. The sharp mustardy tang of raw turnip greens - useful if you get really young greens you can use in a salad, where they perform much like arugula - disappears when the greens are cooked, leaving them typically milder than mustard greens, and without the slipperiness or acidity of spinach. They can be fixed to serve on their own, much as you might cooked spinach, or can be chopped and added to a soup either early on, so that the flavor and texture blends with the soup, or towards the finish, to retain more or less textural contrast and localize their 'green' contribution to the flavor. The greens can also be chopped and blanched, and served along with the cooked 'root', either stirred into the bashed product, or served over chunks of cooked turnip. Rutabaga greens, should you find them, can be used much the same way, being similar to kale.
South of the Tweed, and in some other parts of the English speaking world (including the English spoken by some older Americans), the Rutabaga is called a Swede, short for "Swedish turnip"
Thanks to Texas A&M for this week's illustration.