28 April 2008

Benito vs. the Rutabaga

When I contemplate the lowly rutabaga, it makes me think about economics. You always see them in the grocery store, but who buys them? Despite the efforts of the Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute, I've never heard someone mention a craving for one. What more popular vegetables subsidize the presence of fresh rutabagas year round? It's also odd to buy a root vegetable encased in wax. Not just the sheen of gloss put on apples and cucumbers, but a thick protective coating that preserves the root vegetable. At a Burns' Night dinner years ago I had some "neeps & tatties" (rutabagas and potatoes) alongside the haggis, and I recently had a rutabaga purée in Cleveland, but I'd never fixed one myself.

I had an idea for a fancy preparation incorporating an ingredient that looked like a prop from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I peeled the softball-sized rutabaga. It takes forever with a peeler and is somewhat dangerous with a knife. Then I divided it into a ¼" dice and boiled it in chicken broth until tender (roughly 45 minutes). Mashed up with some roasted garlic, popped into a ramekin and topped with some buttered orzo, basil and a parmesan chip, one of those magical garnishes that ups the price of a dish by $5.

Verdict? I'm more likely to use acorn squash when I want a savory, non-potato starch. The rutabaga was good in this dish but not necessarily worth the trouble of prep. I also can't shake the association of rutabagas with hard times and starvation such as the Steckrübenwinter of 1916-1917, when the population of Germany had to survive on rutabagas.

Unlike the subjects of the Kaiser, I got to enjoy mine with some beef, a refreshing salad, and the 2005 Columbia Crest Two Vines "Vineyard 10" from the Columbia Valley of Washington. $9, 13.5% abv, a proprietary blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright, with big red fruit flavors, some lingering tannins but overall a decent blend for the price.

I've always found Columbia Crest to be a reliable producer, and at some point I'm going to try their higher end offerings. One blend I miss is their Semillon-Chardonnay, which I last remember seeing in the late 90s. When you got to serve that to someone that had never tasted any other white than straight chard, it was delightful to watch his or her face brighten up.

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