There was a time, before the directdial, Dear-John kiss-off, when all you had to do to get rid of a potential suitor was to cook him a turnip. He immediately got the message.
And there was a time before that when people thought parsnips caused insnity. (They confused them with hemlock, which looks about the same.)
Sometime in between, it was discovered that the rutabaga, a.k.a. the swede, didn't come from Sweden at all. It came from Bohemia.
Now they sit in the store, these three plants with such rich heritages, next to the discount-week-old-vegetable bin. Their public image isn't very encouraging either: The winter roots are accused of being "dingy white," "cheap" or "yucky."
But such criticism is unfair. The parsnip is not dingy; it is a sweet, offwhite root, like its respected relative, the carrot. When steamed (never boiled!), it has a nutty flavor. Pick the smallest parsnips available -- the larger ones have a tough inside core.
Rutabagas look like overweight turnips but are more nutritious. The size does not affect quality. They will keep for months stored at a cool room temperature. Keep them out of the refrigerator. The cold hurts their sensitive nature. (Don't worry about the waxy covering, which is to protect them from self-inflicted injuries. Peel it and the outside skin off with a potato peeler.)
Turnips, round white roots with a purple band, are best when small -- 2 to 3 inches in diameter. The larger vegetables may be baked in their skin like a potato or cut into julienne strips for a milder taste. Dieters can have a switch from raw carrots and celery. Raw turnips have only 28 calories per cup, 54 if cooked.
A temperamental Roman king once asked his chef for a rare fish. Rather than lose the king's favor, and his head, the chef took a large turnip, carved it into the shape of the fish and served it to the delighted king.
So here is a dish fit for a king, along with one for a Swede and a color-blind carrot fancier.
TURNIP RING (6 servings)
6 to 8 white turnips
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground white pepper
4 egg yolks, beaten until stiff
In boiling salted water, cook the turnips covered for 40 minutes, or until they are very tender. Drain, peel and mash them until smooth. Measure 2 cups of the puree and reserve it.
In a saucepan, heat the butter and over low heat gently cook the flour for a few minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Beat in the sugar, egg yolks and cumin.
Add the 2 cups of turnip puree and blend the mixture well. Season it to taste.
Into the turnip mixture, fold the egg white. Spoon the batter into a lightly buttered 1 1/2-quart mold ring. Bake the turnip ring at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is set. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Unmold it onto a warm serving platter and garnish it with parsley.
From "A Celebration of Vegetables" by Robert Ackart.
RUTABAGAS AND APPLES
Cook 4 rutabagas for about 30 minutes, until they are tender, in a small quantity of salted water in a covered saucepan. Drain the rutabagas and mash them. Simmer 2 peeled and quartered apples in a little water for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Put the apples through a sieve. Combine the apple puree and the mashed rutabagas, add 2 tablespoons butter, and beat well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
A similar recipe, Himmel und Erde , (Heaven and Earth) is made from mashed turnips, potatoes and seasoned apples mixed in any proportion.
BAKED RUTABAGAS A LA CREME (6 servings)
3 1/2 pounds rutabagas
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the rutabagas and potatoes. Cut the rutabagas into 2 1/2 inch cubes. Slice tha potatoes into approximately the same size.
Place the vegetables in a kettle and add cold water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to the boil and cook 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and put through a food mill or sieve.
Return the vegetables to the kettle and add the butter. Beat it in over low heat. Bring the cream to a boil and beat in with a whisk. Spoon the mixture into a baking dish. Bake about 20 minutes, or until bubbling hot throughout. Brown briefly under the broiler.
From "Craig Claiborne's Favorites, Vol. 4."
PARSNIPS AU GRATIN (6 to 8 servings)
1 1/2 pounds parsnips
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 cups medium-thick Bechamel sauce (see below)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter
Place scrubbed parsnips in salted boiling water and cook until crispy tender, about 20 minutes and slice. Add cheese to Bechamel sauce and pour over the parsnips. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, dot with butter and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve as an accompaniment to any roasted meat or fowl.
Bechamel Sauce (1 cup sauce)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup boiling milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.Off heat, add milk all at once, beating vigorously. Return to heat and cook until thickened. Add seasonings.
From "Out of the Garden Into the Kitchen," by Beryl M. Marton