Rutabagas are one of those vegetables people love to hate. Why? Is it the name? The handle "rutabaga" derives from the Swedish word rotabagge ~ rot for "root" and bagge for "bag." Granted, "rootbag" isn't the most glamorous name on the menu, but neither is "pork butt" and people go nuts for that.
Is it the flavor? What exactly does a rutabaga taste like? It's a little bitter, but that bitterness is balanced with a sweet earthiness that's really very nice. Sort of a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. Which makes sense, considering that the rutabaga resembles a large yellow turnip and is suspected to have a wild cabbage in the proverbial genetic woodpile.
So what, then? Why does everyone and his little cousin hate the poor rutabaga? Well, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they were originally used in the 1600s to feed animals, and were not generally considered something people ate if they had a choice. But if this is the case, it's high time we steamrolled right over that stereotype. There are loads of other foods that started out the same way and that we happily fork up meal after meal. Like that morning bowl of oatmeal? So does Mr. Ed.
Let's try and break out of the rutabaga-hater rut and give this rootbag a chance. If it helps, you can call it a swede. Europeans do, and we all know that Europeans would never eat anything icky.
Rutabaga with Caramelized Onions and Apples
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 yellow onions
- 2 tart cooking/baking apples (I used Empire)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 small to medium rutabaga
- Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- Peel onions and cut in half. Slice thinly. Peel and core apples; slice, then julienne into matchsticks about 1/4 inch thick. Toss apples and onions together to combine.
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. When butter is melted, add onion-and-apple mixture and allow to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. About 30 minutes into the cooking time, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar over the onion mixture and gently stir in.
- When onions are deep golden brown and caramelized, add 1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar to pan to deglaze it, and stir, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer until vinegar is absorbed, then turn off heat and set aside.
- While the onion mixture is cooking, wash and peel the rutabaga. Cut into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch dice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook diced rutabaga until tender ~ about 20 minutes. Cooking time will vary according to the size of your dice, so test at 5-minutes intervals. The rutabaga is done when it is fork-tender. Drain well.
- Remove onion mixture from pan and melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the same pan. When melted, add rutabaga cubes. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook over medium-low heat until heated through, about 10 minutes.
- Add onion mixture back to pan and gently stir into rutabaga cubes. Let cook for a minute or two to heat through. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- The act of cutting a rutabaga in half must send millions of people to emergency rooms every year. Or it would, if millions of people were rutabaga fans. You take a slippery waxed globe with the approximate density of a pine knot and try to force a knife through it ~ you just know it's going to end badly. So please, don't do it. My favorite way to handle this ~ and the butchering of all geode-resembling vegetables, such as butternut and acorn squash ~ is to firmly anchor the knife horizontally in the rutabaga, then, gripping the handle with one hand, give the tip of the knife a few raps with a rubber mallet, driving the knife all the way through. Try it, you'll be amazed.
- I've found that the easiest way to peel a rutabaga is to quarter it and then use a paring knife to peel away the skin. If you have a better way, I'd love to hear about it!
- Caramelizing the onions is an entirely different process from sauteing them. Note that to caramelize them, you will use medium-low heat and a fairly long cooking time. If you're pressed for time, you can go ahead and saute the onions, but the flavor and texture will be different. Caramelized onions take on an unbelievable sweetness and a delectably sticky texture that come from changes in the onions that take place during the cooking process. Higher heat and shorter cook times won't replicate that.
- You can omit the sugar, or use less, in the caramelization step. The onions will still caramelize on their own. I like to use a bit of brown sugar for added flavor and to help the process along, but I don't add it till midway through the process, to allow the onions' natural sugars plenty of time to do their thing. If you don't have brown sugar, white sugar will do the trick too, but brown sugar adds a nice caramel note.
- If you like your veggies on the sweet side, try drizzling the rutabaga cubes with a tablespoon of honey when you add the caramelized onions and apples.
- If you don't have cider vinegar on hand, try balsamic or rice vinegar. You won't really taste the vinegar much in the finished dish, but it adds a spark of flavor that beautifully balances out the sweetness of the sugar and the richness of the butter.
- You can use any apple that will hold up well upon cooking/baking. I like Empires, but Granny Smiths, Cortlands, and Jonathans are great in this application too.
- This is a particularly good side dish to pair with roasted pork or chicken.