Larger than the turnip and with a rough skin that is partly tan and partly purple, the rutabaga's unpolished appearance belies its fine texture and distinctive, sweet tasting flesh.
When roast or mashed, rutabaga makes a simple and tasty side dish. It can also be used to add interest to stews or in a variety of twists on mashed potato.
The rutabaga is thought to have originated in central Europe and has a relatively short culinary history compared with many vegetables. It was known in France and England in the seventeenth century and became an important European crop by the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century it reached the USA and then Canada.
To this day it is a much more popular food in northern and eastern Europe than any other region.
A member of the Cruciferae family, Brassica napus is a hardy plant that is frost-tolerant and thrives in moist soil.
Choose rutabaga that are firm, solid and heavy for its size. The skin should be free of major damage but the rigid scars around the top are natural. Smaller examples are generally sweeter and milder.
Rutabaga will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks or more.
Peel before use. As the skin is quite thick and uneven you may find it easier to quarter the rutabaga and cut off the skin with a knife, rather than using a peeler.
Roasting will concentrate the rutabaga's flavour, whereas boiling will dilute it. Cut rutabaga into chunks or cubes, according to preference, and cook until tender. Baking at 200°C will take around 30 to 45 minutes, boiling will take 10 to 20 minutes.
Rutabaga can also be used raw; try it finely grated in a salad.
In Scotland rutabaga is known as neeps and is served mashed alongside haggis as part of the traditional supper on Burns Night.