One Ingredient: Two Ways By Suzanne Lehrer
Proud to introduce Suzanne Lehrer our latest columnist here on MarcusSamuelsson.com
Bio: Suzanne is a lover of all things food and writes a weekly “One Ingredient: Two Ways” column for MarcusSamuelsson.com. She works at Vanity Fair.
Last week, I had what you might call a “root awakening” when I was served a piece of fish at a new restaurant I was trying. The fish itself was fine-I can’t even remember what kind it was-but the real star of the dish was the delicious, orange mash beneath it. It was sweet and earthy, and when I scanned the menu again, it was rutabaga, a root vegetable with a catchy name, but seemingly no fan following to match; I couldn’t recall a single other time I had eaten it or seen it on a menu.
I took it upon myself to take this poor, little-known veggie under my wing, learn more about it, and put it to the test in the kitchen. After a week of research, rutabaga and I became fast friends.
Rutabagas-which in their natural form are rather gnarly, knotty, and plain old ugly-were first cultivated in the 17th century by the Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin, who crossbred a cabbage with a turnip.
Since their inception, rutabagas have been popular in Swedish cuisine-though they were staples in English royal gardens as far back as 1664. Rutabagas hit the New World around 1800, where they were referred to as “turnip-rooted cabbages.”
While the two are closely related, rutabagas have the turnip beat in a couple of key areas: they’re both denser and sweeter, loaded with vitamin A, and stay fresh for a month or more while turnips only last about a week. In season mainly from September to June, rutabagas are at their peak when they’re firm, smooth, globe-like and purple towards the root, and without leaf scars, bruises, or too many fibrous roots. Be forewarned: it can be a bit of a hackjob to peel a rutabaga, but the effort is well worth it.
These fries are an interesting and sturdier alternative to sweet potato fries, which can sometimes become soggy. The Panko breadcrumbs add a satisfyingly thick layer of crunch, while roasting the rutabaga beforehand makes for a softer inside. The spicy aioli with lemon and lots of garlic gives it a cool kick-and tastes good with just about anything, so don’t be afraid of leftovers.
Makes 3 portions
2 firm rutabaga, peeled and slice into discs 1/2 in. thick
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Lemon Paprika Aioli: Adapted from Bon Appetit
makes about 2/3 cup
2/3 cup mayonnaise (can substitute “light” for regular)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. paprika
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400Ã‹Å¡. Toss the rutabaga discs with the olive oil and honey in a bowl with a dash of salt until well coated, then spread on a baking sheet lined with either parchment paper. Roast for approx. 40 minutes until softened and browned, turning them over about halfway through.
Slice the roasted discs into 2-3 strips each and set aside. Fill a saute pan with about 1/2 inch of canola oil on medium-high heat. Set out your “fry assembly line”: the flour, eggs, beaten, and lastly, the breadcrumbs.
Put a spatula or wooden spoon in the oil to test if it sizzles-if so, turn to medium heat and begin. Coat each strip of rutabaga with flour, egg (making sure to let excess drip off) and roll in breadcrumbs. Drop the rutabaga into the oil and let fry for about 15 seconds, or until light brown, and remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels. If you’re making a much larger batch, you can keep the fries in the oven to stay warm while you fry the rest.
Whisk together the ingredients, adding more paprika, lemon and salt to taste.
ROASTED RUTABAGA TART WITH RICOTTA AND THYME
Savory tarts are an elegant and fairly easy way to showcase your favorite ingredients-not to mention a great excuse to eat pastry crust. Lighter than your average savory tart-which can become heavy with a custard base-these tarts have a delicate feel, and the ricotta will coax your rutabaga-reticent friends into trying some for the first time. Don’t be intimidated by making your own pastry dough, though in you’re in a hurry, store-bought ones are ok, too. Freeze your leftover dough and you can make quick and impressive desserts in the future.
Makes 4 small tarts
Pastry Dough from Gourmet:
1 1/4 cup all purpose baking flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
2 large, firm rutabaga, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2-2/3 cups fresh ricotta-I highly recommend the brand Salvatore Bklyn sold at select stores in New York or available here. Locally-sourced and made in Brooklyn, it’s the best ricotta this side of the pond.
2 teaspoons thyme (fresh is better, but dried is OK too)
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. olive oil
Instruments: Pie weights
For Pastry Dough:
Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.
Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again. (Do not overwork mixture or pastry will be tough.)
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk.
Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375Ã‹Å¡. Remove the dough from the fridge and set out to warm up and soften, and do the same with the ricotta. Toss rutabaga with olive oil, honey, and a few shakes of salt, spread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and roast for about 50 minutes, or until softened and browned, turning over about halfway through. When ricotta has softened, mix in a bowl with the fresh thyme until blended throughout.
Cut your dough into 4 parts and roll out until it’s about 1/4 in. thick. I decided to make smaller, almost hors d’oeuvres-sized tarts, and baked them in a muffin tin. For larger, or more professional-looking tarts, you can fit the dough into 4-in. flan rings on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Either way, cover your tart shell with waxed paper and pie weights-to prevent shrinking or rising too much in the center. Bake tart shells for about 10-15 minutes, or until beginning to turn light brown-though they should be fully baked through. Remove and let cool, removing the paper and pie weights or flan rings from the shell.
Turn oven down to 350Ã‹Å¡. When shells have cooled slightly, fill with the roasted rutabaga, and top with a dollop of the ricotta mixture and a sprinkling of salt. Put the filled shells back in to back for about 10-12 more minutes-the cheese should be melted and the shell should be a golden brown.