Whotabaga?

Continuing with the theme of Thanksgiving, I’m proud to introduce the rutabaga. “Introduce the rutabaga?” Ironic I know, because this hearty vegetable has been around for centuries but for some reason has never achieved the rock star status of its root vegetable brethren, such as potatoes or carrots.

It could be the “ugly step sister”  syndrome because the rutabaga will certainly not be crowned in any beauty pageants. Evidenced below:

Rutabaga

Rutabaga

Or maybe it’s the shoppers’ uncertainty of what to do with this hard, nubby, purple-tinged globe that has it relegated to the back of produce shelves. Regardless of the reason, I’m going to encourage you to stand on your tippy toes while supermarket shopping this week and reach for that rutabaga.

I was surprised to learn that rutabaga is a cross between turnips and cabbage. It has the look and feel of a turnip but no semblance to cabbage at all. My guess would have been that it’s a turnip-horseradish hybrid because raw rutabaga has a peppery scent. Choose the one that feels heavy in your hand, is firm, smooth, with no cracks and is colored purple and cream. Oh, what the heck, grab two. As with almost all vegetables the smaller ones will be sweeter and therefore better. These rutabaga can keep for up to a month in the refrigerator drawer but instead of storing, prepare a Rutabaga Casserole for your Thanksgiving table. In addition to having a long shelf-life and being inexpensive, rutabaga are rich in fiber, vitamin C and potassium.

To prepare rutabaga, trim the root and stem ends and peel the skin which sometimes has a protective waxy coating. At this point it can be shaved and served raw or sauteed, sliced and roasted, or cubed, boiled and mashed. The following recipe takes advantage of the later method and the resulting dish is sweet, smooth and comforting.

The recipe below will likely fall into the category of “Thanksgiving only” and with its orange color it really does exemplify the holiday. The children and probably most of the adults at your table, won’t know what they are eating but they’ll likely go back for a second scoop. If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving dinner, this dish transports easily and can be quickly reheated at your host’s home. And since the dish, and rutabagas in general, are not fussy it can be thrown in with whatever is already in the oven at whatever temperature.

There’s no time like the present to familiarize yourself with rutabaga. Take the plunge, go outside your comfort zone and give this lonely vegetable a try. And if you happen to be a rutabaga fan, please share your favorite preparations with the rest of us because I’d love to broaden my repertoire.

Finally, this recipe was given to me by my mother-in-law and has no source. It’s pretty basic so while I feel remiss in not crediting the author, I am guessing that this dish has appeared many times in many places, with slight variations.

Rutabaga Casserole

Rutabaga Casserole

Rutabaga Casserole
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Ingredients
  1. 2 rutabagas, about 3 1/2 pounds
  2. 1 1/2 cups of whole milk (or a combination of cream and whole milk)
  3. 3/4 cup dried bread crumbs, plus more to coat
  4. 1/3 cup dark corn syrup
  5. 1 egg, beaten
  6. 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  7. 1/2 tsp white pepper
  8. 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  9. 1 Tbls salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Wash the rutabagas, cut off both ends and peel. Cut into large cubes and boil in enough salted water to cover until soft, approximately 30-40 minutes. Strain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
  3. Puree the rutabaga in a food processor or blender. Combine the milk/cream and dried breadcrumbs, and mix into the pureed rutabaga along with the dark syrup, beaten egg, ginger, pepper, nutmeg and salt. Add as much of the cooking liquid needed to give the puree a loose, soft consistency, approximately 1/4-1/2 cup.
  4. Turn into a greased baking dish (a pie plate works well) and sprinkle with a thin coating of breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for an hour until heated through and the top is golden. If breadcrumbs need a little more browning, broil for 1-2 minutes before removing from the oven to cool slightly before serving.
Notes
  1. If traveling with the casserole, you can bake it entirely just before serving or bake partially in advance and finish cooking at your final destination.
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