Rutabaga Redux

Two of my usual recipe references, Bittman and Bishop, mostly ignore rutabagas. But I like rutabagas. They’re local, they store well, and with a nutty, sweet taste, seem worthy of a rehabilitated reputation.

My young friend and her mother gave me an English cookbook for Christmas: “The Vegetable Book” by Colin Spencer. Spencer gathers vegetables into botanical families, and tells a bit about each vegetable’s history and nutritive qualities.

He includes rutabagas, which he calls “swedes” (our American name is the French word for the yellow variety). Spencer says there is a “huge satisfaction to be gained from simple peasant dishes” – such as his “Swede and Kale Pie.”

Begin by removing the kale’s midrib (you can also chop the kale, but I forgot and chopped it afterwards), and cook for four or five minutes in boiling salted water. Drain, pressing out water.

To make the sauce – a roux – I turned to Deborah Madison’s roux page, since it offers an alternative with olive oil instead of butter. Add cheese (Parmesan and Gruyère) until you have a smooth thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, combine with the kale, and pour into an oven-going dish.

Then Spencer says to slice a pound of rutabaga thinly, and fry until it turns golden. Arrange over the kale, and bake for 20 minutes.

Spencer’s pie was tasty (and made good leftovers), but the next time I’d change the part where you fry the swede. I’d parboil the rutabaga (a Deborah suggestion when roasting rutabaga), and then top the kale with it and brush with a little olive oil.

Deborah’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (the family bible here – the “take to a desert island book” – along with the CSA delivery of course) has fine rutabaga possibilities like buttered with herbs, baked fries, and julienned with savory.

I like to encourage a vegetable with such sound nutrition credentials. In spite of its uninspiring outward appearance – so easy to walk past in the vegetable section – rutabagas provide Vitamin C, calcium, niacin, and more.

They’re rich in what we need – and when delicious – what we want!

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