I say, "Rutabaga!" Quick — what happens? If you have nothing to say, if the word "rutabaga" leaves you blinking at the screen with some measure of confusion or apprehension, then please trust me. You need to know this vegetable.
Rutabaga has an intimidating exterior, but look what happens when you whip up the innards with olive oil, milk, and a pinch of something smoky — this is creamy, smoky heaven in a dish right here.
What is a rutabaga anyway? The rutabaga (also called a swede, especially in Europe) is a root vegetable, usually found year-round in grocery stores with its skin coated in wax for preservation. It is a relative of turnips, but without most of the bitter spiciness that often characterizes turnips. It is far more popular in England, Scandinavia, and northern Europe than in the United States, which is a shame because honestly, I like it better than I like potatoes or turnips.
In my mind, the rutabaga is like a richer, sweeter potato — you can whip it creamy like potatoes, but it has a silkier texture and a warmer color and flavor (thanks to a bit of beta carotene). Rutabagas are often mashed together with potatoes, in fact, which is a nice change for your usual mashed potatoes.
But I prefer my rutabagas straight up, seasoned and creamy, with their sweet flavor getting full attention. Here's my current favorite way to enjoy rutabaga: The rutabaga is peeled, cooked in milk, then mashed and whipped with cream cheese. The smokiness comes from smoked olive oil and smoked paprika; if you don't have the olive oil add just an extra pinch of paprika.
This dish is indulgent enough to eat on its own, with a green salad beside it, but it also makes an excellent accompaniment for chicken or lamb stew.
This method will not get the rutabaga completely smooth, like finely whipped potatoes. It will have a light, creamy texture with some small nubs of solid vegetable still in the mix. I enjoy this texture, but if you want it completely smooth you can run the mixture through a food processor or a food mill. It will hold up better to this treatment than potatoes. That's the other nice thing about rutabaga: You don't need to worry about over-whipping them; you don't have the danger of gluey paste the way you do with potatoes.
Rutabaga also reheats much better than mashed potatoes; there is virtually no texture degradation after a day or two in the fridge. For this reason I really like these more than potatoes for a big dinner; I can make them ahead and reheat them with no problems.
So, I hope I have convinced you; rutabaga looks ugly, knobbly, and intimidating — splotched and scarred. But know that there is a beautiful dish waiting within, and in that, it expresses the best of what autumn root vegetables have to offer.
Creamy, Smoky Whipped Rutabaga
3 1/2 to 4 pounds rutabagas (two small or one large vegetable)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons smoked olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the rutabaga(s) in half crosswise. Place a half cut side down on a stabilized cutting board and carefully shave off the peel with a large chef's knife. (See an example of this method here, demonstrated with celery root.) Cut the peeled rutabaga into small slices about 1 inch thick. Repeat with the rest of the rutabaga.
Heat the butter in a large, heavy 4-quart pot, set over medium heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the chopped rutabaga and the garlic. Stir to coat the vegetables in butter, then sprinkle them with the salt. Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the rutabaga is very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the vegetables cool for about 5 minutes.
At this point you can either leave the rutabaga in the pot and use a hand mixer to whip it, or you can transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle.
Drop the cream cheese into the rutabaga and use the hand mixer or stand mixer to mash it into the vegetables. The rutabaga will crumble then slowly turn into a mashed potato consistency. Add the olive oil and smoked paprika and mix thoroughly. Taste and add more salt and some black pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately.
(Images: Faith Durand)