The root crops usually end up off to the side at the farmer's market or hidden at the bottom of the box of the weekly CSA delivery. Given the competition at this time of year -- tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini -- rutabagas and turnips are bound to be overshadowed. But I urge you to stretch a little and embrace these forgotten vegetables.
Fresh turnips deserve discovery by gardeners and cooks alike. They are easy to grow, can be planted in spring or summer, and, just like anything else out of the field, they are amazingly sweet when just picked.
Yes, they will store for months, years or maybe even decades, but there's nothing like pulling a turnip out of the soft soil and bringing it right into the kitchen.
The old standbys are about the size of a baseball and blushed in pink. But new varieties are being grown in purple, pure white and yellow. Turnips are actually a member of the cabbage family, and the greens are treasured as much as the root. The tops are good for you, high in vitamins K, A and C, along with manganese and fiber.
But like any greens, they need to be prepared correctly to enjoy both nutrient and flavor. Smaller turnip greens are usually more tender and not as strong. I like to remove the stem and just use the soft leafy part. You can't go wrong by sauteing them in a little butter, garlic and cayenne pepper. They pair well with traditional Southern dishes made with beans and rice. They also make a good spinach substitute for Italian dishes.
The star of this plant, however, is the globular root, which can be used many ways. When choosing a turnip, look for a nice smooth skin and good-looking fresh greens. The greens should smell sweet. Smaller turnips are often sweeter and most tender and can even be eaten raw.
They are excellent roasted. First, peel off the skin and cut the turnip into quarters, Throw the cut pieces into a bowl and drizzle with some good extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and a little pepper, mix everything up and let them sit in the fridge for an hour. Put them on a baking pan and roast at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes or until soft. They can also be baked, sauteed or steamed.
Rutabagas are even scarier looking than turnips. Talk about ugly! They rival a cat fight on "Jersey Shore." They were often referred to as Swede or yellow turnip until the late 1960s, when gardeners changed the root's name to avoid confusion with its smaller cousin, the turnip. Besides being larger, rutabagas have yellow flesh and smooth waxy leaves.
They are usually peeled and cubed for cooking. Rutabagas are often paired with other root crops such as carrots and potatoes for casseroles. They complement pork, duck and spicy dishes. Basil, dill, rosemary and thyme work well with rutabagas, as do orange juice and lemon juice.
When grown in cool weather, rutabagas are sweet, and gardeners have the option of picking them a little smaller for tender, sweet roots.
Cooked right, rutabagas will surprise you with their wonderful flavor and soft texture. The recipe that follows is a quick, uncomplicated way to bring out the best in them.
RUTABAGA, VIDALIA ONIONS AND HONEY
- 2 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed
- 4 large Vidalia onions, sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, mined
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons teriyaki marinade sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 tablespoons of butter (margarine)
Mix all ingredients together in a very large baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or until crisp.