As tomorrow is Halloween I thought this would be an ideal time to discuss the humble rutabaga.
When I was growing up in the UK, we always made Jack 'O' Lanterns from rutabagas or swedes, as they are known over there. Pumpkins were pricey, particularly around Halloween time so my mum always bought swedes. They are harder to carve since the flesh is very dense and not at all hollow like a pumpkin. I prefer them to pumpkins in that they are far cruder looking and therefore infinitely more creepy. Pumpkins are a bit jolly (orange, smooth etc), rutabagas are sinister and so perfectly suited to Halloween.They are also quite pungent, even now the smell of them takes me back to that time. Autumn was so exciting to me. First there was Halloween, then Guy Fawkes' night then my birthday and the smell of raw or cooking rutabaga is permeated with that childlike excitement still.
Rutabagas don't seem to be very popular in the US, in fact every time I bring them to the check out at my local grocery store the cashier looks utterly confounded by the thing and usually asks me what it is (mind you they also do this with leeks, parsnips and various other produce too). I live in the South where the climate is rather kind and rutabagas thrive in wet, cold climes so perhaps if I went farther north I would find them everywhere. The taste is mustardy and they are a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also boasts broccoli, spinach, arugala, Brussel sprouts, kale and more as members.
Despite their rather modest look, I think they are too often overlooked in cooking. They can be steamed then mashed with lots of butter and then mixed with steamed, mashed carrots as a much healthier and tastier alternative to mashed potatoes. If you roast them they develop a stringent and sweet flavor. They are a popular addition to Cornish pasties, and many British soups and stews contain them because they are plentiful in the Autumn and therefore cheap.
The stew below has a heartiness due to the rutabaga and lentils/beans however the tomato and vinegar lift the flavors, preventing it from becoming too stodgy.
Fall Stew with Rutabaga and Greens
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 pound of kielbasa sausage finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/4 cup of cider or red wine vinegar
1 rutabaga cut into 1/2 inch cubes
28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of dried lentils (i like to use a mix of different varieties) or a 12 oz can of white beans or black eyed peas
Two big handfuls of greens such as kale or mustard greens (stalks removed and roughly chopped)
I have my baby daughter to thank for this recipe. I had pureed some cooked butternut squash with the stalks of some broccoli for her and it tasted very good indeed. Honestly, all of the food I give her I could happily eat myself. I am a little concerned that I appear to feed her as if she were a piglet I am fattening up. Any scraps of vegetables or fruits get pureed and fed to her, though organic matter that is truly inedible gets composted. So far she will eat anything as long as we use a pacifier to shovel it into her mouth, she leans into the path of it, frantically sucks it and lets the food squelch out of her mouth as she sucks. Try as we might the spoon is usually met with tight-lipped haughtiness. I hope that by the time she is ready to leave for college she will not need the pacifier to feed herself, but we take each day as it comes.
When butternut squash first became popular I would ask people how they might prepare it and usually the shrugged answer was ‘soup?’ and I would feel a bit disappointed. There are other ways such as cutting it with peel still on, drizzling with oil and salt and roasting it. The peel becomes paper thin and you can either slide the flesh from it or eat with skin. I now agree that it is great for soup too. Soups are such a wonderful thing to master: they are healthy, can be made in big batches and frozen and are an efficient way of using up seasonal produce. Most of them, including this one, are a cinch to prepare as well. I the mix with broccoli here because it cuts through the sweetness of the squash and it allows you to use the whole piece of broccoli rather than just the florets.
Serves about 6
1 small to medium-sized butternut squash
1 punch of broccoli
1 32 ounce carton of low sodium chicken broth (I used the Pacific’s organic free range broth)
Salt to taste
Despite the small number of ingredients, I think the soup is packed full of flavor however if you want to give it a boost, try ...
adding one of the following to the soup before blending:
1 tsp Ground cumin
¼ tsp of Nutmeg
A sprig of chopped fresh rosemary
A handful of chopped fresh oregano
OR, just before serving perhaps you could try...
A drizzle of chili oil
A little pat of butter, maybe herbed or garlic butter
A splash of thick cream or yoghurt
A sprinkling of blue cheese or parmesan
Have any other ideas for a tasty addition? Let me know in the comments!
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