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Rutabagas

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Rutabagas look similar to turnips, but are a separate botanical species that probably evolved from a cross between a turnip and a wild cabbage. Rutabagas are larger and rounder than turnips (the vegetable's name comes from the Swedish word rotabagge, meaning "round root"). They have a firmer flesh, which is usually yellow, and a stronger, sweeter flavor. Like turnips, they are a cruciferous vegetable; they also contain a good amount of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, and a small amount of beta-carotene (significant only in its comparison to turnips, which have no beta-carotene at all).

Compared to turnips, rutabagas (Brassica napus) are comparatively new--the first record of them is from the seventeenth century, when they were used as both food and animal fodder in southern Europe. In England, they were referred to as "turnip-rooted cabbages," and their popularity in Scandinavia eventually earned them the name of Swedish turnips, or "swedes" (Europeans still use this term). Americans were growing rutabagas as early as 1806. Warm temperatures (above 75°F) can damage rutabagas, and, as a result, they are planted chiefly in northern states and in Canada.

Like other cruciferous vegetables, rutabagas can become more strongly flavored when cooked. However, the odors from both vegetables are quite mild compared to, say, Brussels sprouts and cabbages, and you will find that when rutabagas are well prepared, their sweet, somewhat peppery flesh makes them excellent side dishes as well as tasty additions to salads, soups, and stews.

Availability

Rutabagas are available all year, in part because they store well--up to four months or more at 32°F in commercial storage. Supplies peak in the fall and winter months, when the bulk of both crops is harvested. Most of the domestic rutabaga supply is imported from Canada.

Shopping

Rutabagas are considerably larger than turnips. Their skin is tan, with a dark purple band at their crown, and they have a rather lumpy, irregular shape. They are almost always trimmed of their taproots and tops, and are often coated with a thick layer of clear wax to prevent moisture loss. The skin visible through the wax should be free of major scars and bruises. Watch out for mold on the surface of the wax. Rutabagas should feel firm and solid, never spongy. For sweetest flavor, choose smallish rutabagas, about 4" in diameter.

Storage

Rutabagas keep well. Stored in the refrigerator, they'll keep for two weeks or more, or at room temperature for about a week.

Preparation

Rutabagas can be eaten raw, but large ones may be strongly flavored; you can reduce their assertive taste somewhat by blanching them in boiling water for about five minutes before baking, braising, or stir-frying. And to keep the flavor mild, don't overcook these vegetables.

The wax applied to rutabagas must be peeled (along with the skin) before cooking. A sharp paring knife is better for this purpose than a vegetable peeler. It's also easier to peel rutabagas if you quarter them first.

Baking/roasting: Place 1/4"-thick slices of rutabaga in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of water. Cover and bake in a 350°F oven until tender. Sliced onions can be layered with the rutabagas for additional flavor. Quartered rutabagas can be roasted alongside meat or poultry. Cooking times: 50 to 60 minutes.

Boiling: Drop whole rutabagas into a pot of boiling water, cover, and cook just until tender. Uncover the pot occasionally during cooking to allow the gases to escape and to ensure a delicate flavor. If a little sugar is added to the water, it will sweeten the taste. Cook thick slices of rutabaga in a skillet with 1 inch of boiling water; blanch cubes or matchsticks of rutabaga in boiling water for just one to two minutes. Cooking times: for whole rutabagas, 25 to 35 minutes; for sliced rutabagas, seven to 10 minutes.

Braising: Place sliced or cubed rutabagas in a heavy skillet. Add enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan, cover, and simmer until tender. Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes.

Microwaving: Place a pound of cubed rutabagas in a microwaveable baking dish, add 3 tablespoons of liquid, cover, and cook until tender. Stir halfway through cooking time; let stand three minutes after removing them from the microwave. Cooking time: seven to nine minutes.

Steaming: Cut-up rutabagas can be steamed over boiling water until just tender. Cooking time: 25 to 35 minutes.

Stir-frying: Stir-fry thinly sliced rutabagas until they are crisp-tender. Cooking time: six to seven minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Rutabaga/1 cup cubes cooked

66
Total fat (g)
0.4
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
3.1
2
Carbohydrate (g)
15
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
34
Vitamin C (mg)
32
Manganese (mg)
0.3
Potassium (mg)
554


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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