The rutabaga does not woo the eater with a sweet disposition or a pretty exterior. The cannonball-sized tuber is usually carrying a coat of wax, which improves its storage life but not its curb appeal.
A cross between the cabbage and the turnip, the rutabaga owes its appeal across Europe to its storage life. Scots, Scandinavians and Russians alike long ago learned to appreciate the virtues of a nutrition-packed vegetable that would last until late spring, when they really needed it. Until the potato arrived in Europe from the New World, the rutabaga, an easy-to-grow root vegetable, was the staff of life for many.
The name comes from Swedish for big root, and the rutabaga is still referred to as a “Swede” in some areas. Its flesh offers sweetness that’s soon challenged by a sharp, horseradishlike bite. That makes timid eaters wince, but many find it satisfying nonetheless.
Rutabagas are often boiled and mashed, served in stews or gratins. Neeps and tatties – mashed rutabagas and potatoes – are a classic Scottish dish often served with haggis.
Light dinner: Irish families hollowed out rutabagas and illuminated them with candles for All Hallow’s Eve, making the rutabaga the forerunner to the pumpkin-based jack-o’-lantern.
Here, rutabagas are cubed and simmered with carrots and mashed together with a stick of butter for a hearty, satisfying side dish. The recipe is by Nate Smith at Brooklyn gastropub Allswell, from “In Season,” by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld.
Smashed Rutabagas and Carrots
2 medium rutabagas, about 3 pounds
5 medium carrots, about 1 pound
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of chile flakes
1 sprig tarragon (optional)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon, or more, of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Slice the ends off the rutabagas, peel and cut into large dice. Peel the carrots and cut into large dice. Place all of the ingredients except water and parsley in a saucepan and add the water until it reaches halfway up the diced vegetables.
Cover with a parchment lid, or put a lid on the pot and leave it askew. Cook over medium heat, adding more water if necessary, until the vegetables are soft enough to mash and the water has been absorbed. Remove tarragon sprig, if using, and roughly mash the rutabaga-carrot mixture using a potato masher. Adjust seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Makes 4 servings.