Some vegetables just weren’t meant for a decorative bowl on the counter.
The rutabaga is one of them. Rough and scaly, gnarled roots still clinging to remnants of the earth, rutabagas are confined to cellars, paper sacks under the sink or baskets on top of the fridge. You’ll never see them front and center at the supermarket. In fact rutabagas were originally grown to feed livestock, not humans.
A rutabaga is a cross between a turnip and a wild cabbage. They make their appearance at the very end of the growing season, and keep well into the winter. They have a pale orange flesh and a milder flavor than turnips.
Before there was a Halloween as we know it, the ancient Celts hollowed out rutabagas, carved them into gruesome faces and filled them with glowing coals. They were carried through the streets to ward off evil spirits at the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of the dark season.
We always had a large bowl of well buttered rutabaga on our Thanksgiving table when I was growing up. I remember liking them, but I have to admit the rutabaga didn’t manage to make the cut into the next generation of Thanksgivings. I was happy to see them at the farmer’s market this weekend, though, and I’m glad I gave them another try.
Root vegetables are perfect for making purees. Mashed potatoes are the most common, but you can use carrots, parsnips, turnips, yams, and beets, etc. It’s trendy these days in fancy restaurants to serve fish, meats and fowl on top of purees. Sliced pork loin would be wonderful on this one.
My puree is simple and straightforward. You could use chicken stock, but the cider adds a nice note of sweetness and ties in the season. I left mine plain, but you can add any herbs you like.
For the Rutabaga puree:
2 or 3 rutabagas, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1 leek, sliced and rinsed well
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
salt and fresh pepper
For the Cod: (You can use any fish you like)
preheat oven to 375
2 or 3 cod fillets
Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot and add the rutabagas, shallots and leeks. Saute them on low to medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then add in the cider, cover and simmer on low until the rutabagas are tender. This could take 30 minutes, give or take. Add a little extra water if the pot runs dry before the rutabaga are tender.
Transfer to the bowl of a processor along with the cream and process till smooth. Season well with salt and pepper and set aside. You can make this ahead and reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
Drizzle some olive oil in a baking dish and put the cod fillets in. Sprinkle liberally with salt and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, and then pop them under the broiler for a minute or two to get brown.
Once you taste this you’ll forget all about the rutabaga’s homely exterior and gruesome past. You may even want to invite them to Thanksgiving dinner!