When it comes to vegetables, it must be hard to be a rutabaga. As a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, the humongous, humble-looking root vegetable can easily be overlooked when compared to the delicate fiddlehead ferns available in the early spring.
But here at Last Chance Foods, we like the underdog vegetables. That’s one reason WNYC’s Amy Eddings recently bought a huge rutabaga from Conuco Farm’s Hector Tejada at the Fort Greene farmers market. Despite all her good intentions, the poor rutabaga languished in her refrigerator for three weeks, slowly drying out and becoming slightly squishy.
A rescue mission was called. The root vegetable was hauled back to the farmers market for a professional consult with Tejada, whose farm is located in New Paltz, N.Y. He explained that the rutabaga was fine to eat, though perhaps better for a cooked application since it was getting a little soft.
“You want it crisp and crunchy when they’re raw,” Tejada said, adding that he usually eats the vegetable raw.
Eddings’ rutabaga and those at the market now were harvested last year, around Thanksgiving, he added. They take about 120 days to reach their gargantuan size, and usually experience several frosts before being harvested. The cold weather helps make them sweeter.
“They can be sitting in the field and they can be in the morning… completely icy and basically frozen,” Tejada said. “And later when the day gets warmer and the sun shines, they just defrost and the same happens with the greens.”
(Photo: Rutabagas from Conuco Farm at the Fort Greene farmers market.)
The greens are edible, too, and taste like slightly spicier turnip greens. At this point in the year, though, the greens were cut off months ago. For optimal long-term storage, Tejada keeps the rutabagas, still covered in dirt, in closed rubber bins that have holes punched in them for air circulation.
The vegetables are washed before arriving at the market, and Tejada said to keep them in the refrigerator at home. “You don’t want to leave it exposed to the air,” he explained. “You want to keep in either a plastic bag or a sealed container.”
Tejada, who hails from the Dominican Republic, explained that rutabagas are easy to prepare.
He roasts them with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper. He also said that many of his customers like to steam them and mash them with potatoes.
“It was not something that I grew up eating at all,” Tejada admitted. “I love them. I have them even, like, caramelized with maple syrup, like a candy.”
For that, he mixes chunks of rutabaga with maple syrup or honey and seasons it before covering the dish with aluminum foil and roasting it in the oven. He then broils it uncovered until the rutabaga is crispy.
If you want the details of that, you’ll have to visit Tejada at the farmers market. Eddings ended up slicing her rutabaga into strips and using Food52’s recipe for Rutabaga “Cacio e Pepe.”
Rutabaga “Cacio e Pepe”
- 1 rather large rutabaga (sliced yielded about 4 cups)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- black pepper
- ¾ cups parmegiano reggiano, grated
- ¼ cup ricotta salata