There was something about the vegetable named 'rutabaga' that always made me want to giggle. I had never knowingly eaten one (my parents weren't big vegetable pushers) so I'm not sure where the fondness for saying those syllables came from, but between rutabaga and ratatouille, the 'R' section in the food alphabet provided me with much mirth.
The next amusing vegetable name came to light as an adult, when I moved to Britain and heard there was something called a swede. What made someone name this one veg after that nationality, I wondered? And where was your greek, your irish, and your spaniard in your vegetable drawer? Well, imagine how happy it made me to find out that the veg name that was making me giggle as an adult was actually another name for the same rutabaga that delighted me so much as a child. I felt like I had come full circle and that the spheres of the Universe were working as they ought.
Now, during all of this silliness, I had never actually bothered to taste our humble swede/rutabaga. I just didn't know what to do with it. I tried buying one and throwing it in with some stew, but that wasn't hugely revealing as to what the vegetable was really like. A year passed. Another winter, I tried roasting it with a host of other winter vegetables but it once again got subsumed between the other tastes of carrots, parsnips and squashes. Another year passed. I tried stew again - ho hum. Then, this winter, there was a confluence of events: I spotted a recipe on epicurious for mashed rutabaga that sounded intriguing, and Mr A&N's mother (prolific gardener and healthy person extraordinairre) brought some home-grown swedes with her when she was up visiting for Christmas. The stage was set for the Great Swede Experiment, Winter 2007/2008 Chapter.
The epicurious recipe was quite simple: it called to boil the swede while roasting the pears with ginger and lemon juice. The two factions would come together after a bit of mashing and the addition of cream and thyme. All went well in the making of it, but no one was that bowled over by the sweet and creamy taste that tried to mask the fact there was a vegetable involved. And I once again didn't get a sense for what the swede itself was like.
After a few attempts, my guess is that the swede isn't the most flavor-packed of the winter vegetables but is fine to use accompanying other veg or in a mash. The next time I cook with it, though, I might insist on making everyone refer to it as a rutabaga - which can only improve the taste.
Smashed Swede with Pears and Ginger
- 4 pounds swede, peeled, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 3 firm Anjou pears (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- Coarse kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 180 C / 400 F
- Boil the swede in water for about 35 minutes or until the pieces are tender.
- Combine oil, lemon juice, ginger, and sugar in large bowl. Add pears; toss to coat.
- In a oven-proof ceramic dish or a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray, lay out the pear mixture.
- Roast until tender, turning pears every 10 minutes, about 35 minutes total.
- Drain the swede and return to same pot. Mash to until it's a coarse puree.
- Stir over medium heat until excess moisture evaporates, about 5 minutes.
- Add cream, butter, and thyme.
- Mix in pears and any juices from baking sheet.
- Season with salt and pepper.