- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

Whether eating in a restaurant or at the homes of friends, I take special note of the vegetables. If they are fresh and carefully prepared, I take that as a sure sign that the meal will be a success.

When entertaining, many cooks make vegetables mere afterthoughts. We don’t hesitate to invest time in the main course, but by the time we get around to side dishes, our energies are spent. So we resort to the familiar and steam, saute or roast them. Yet there is a bounty of delicious vegetables out there, and there are many interesting ways to prepare them.

Take rutabagas, which are featured in the following recipe. Similar to turnips but a separate botanical species, rutabagas (also called yellow turnips or Swedes) are larger and rounder. They have pale tan skin with a purple band near the crown, and their flesh is firmer and their flavor sweeter and stronger than that of turnips. Inexpensive and available all year long, they adapt beautifully to a variety of cooking techniques. You can boil, braise, saute or roast them with equally good results.

I decided to boil diced rutabagas until tender then mash them with butter, salt and pepper. They are delicious in that form but even better when garnished with crispy fried shallots.

The rutabagas can be cooked and mashed, and the shallots fried and left at room temperature, several hours ahead. At serving time, you need only reheat the rutabagas in the microwave or stir them until warm in a skillet set over low heat.

This delicious side dish would make a fine accompaniment for roast pork or ham, broiled or grilled lamb chops, or sauteed duck breast. Whatever you serve them with, these buttery mashed rutabagas, with their crisp topping, will not take back stage. I doubt that you’ll have leftovers.

Mashed rutabagas with crispy shallots

The rutabagas can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate or leave at cool room temperature. Reheat in the microwave, or place them in a skillet or saucepan over low heat and stir constantly.

The shallots can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead and left at room temperature. They do not need to be reheated when placed atop the warm rutabagas. However, if they lose some crispness, you can spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 to 2 minutes. Watch carefully, since they burn very quickly.

4 pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch or smaller dice (see note)


3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced


6 medium (5½ to 6 ounces) shallots

2/3 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add rutabagas and a tablespoon of salt. Cook, uncovered, on medium-high heat until rutabagas are tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain well in a colander.

Return them to the pan in which they were cooked, and stir in the butter, 1½ teaspoons salt and several grindings of black pepper. Taste and add more, if needed.

Mash rutabagas with a potato masher, or, for a smoother texture, puree them in batches in a food processor or blender.

Peel shallots and thinly slice them crosswise. Separate into rings. Place a double thickness of paper towels on a large plate or platter to drain the fried shallots. Heat the oil in a heavy, medium skillet set over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry the shallots in three batches, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Watch carefully, because shallots tend to burn easily.

Remove shallots as they are done with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.

To serve, mound mashed rutabagas in a serving bowl, and sprinkle shallots over. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Choose rutabagas that are smooth, firm and unblemished. I prefer the smaller ones (no more than 4 inches in diameter) to the larger.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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