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Produce At Its Peak: Turnips and Rutabaga

People often joke about how much Minnesotans like to talk about the weather. When it comes to produce, however, weather is not just small talk–for the most part, it is the reason we have or do not have produce to sell.

This is true locally – a late frost in spring can wipe out an entire autumn apple crop and a hot summer can cause cool weather loving lettuces and radishes to bolt requiring our buyers to bring these items in from California. Perhaps because we know and expect extreme weather fluctuations in the Midwest uncertain produce availability is easier to understand.

On the contrary, we have come to expect a constant, consistent, and copious supply of produce from California and Mexico. But uncertain weather conditions on the Western seaboard can have a dramatic impact on the produce we take for granted.

The drought in California over the past few years has been the topic of weather conversations and has raised fears over produce prices and availability. However, it was winter precipitation courtesy of El Nino that caused recent disruptions in the supply chain. In the first week of January, from the deserts to the mountains there was anywhere from a quarter-inch of rain to 12-feet of snow in the Sierras. As a result, despite sourcing daily from four distributors we saw some significant shortages in the produce department.

For vegetable crops, the rain came at a critical time of transition. Some parts of the state were already harvesting but others were preparing fields for planting. The rain prevented crews from doing either. The delay in planting will continue to impact availability in the coming weeks.

Luckily, we still have root crops stored from local harvests to sustain us. Some such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions are familiar staples. Others, like celeriac, are less frequently used but offer hardy substitutions when their tender counterpart (celery) is unavailable. Underappreciated and underutilized in the winter months are the roots in the brassica family: turnips and rutabagas.

Turnips are one of the earliest cultivated vegetables. What began as a spindly root has developed over centuries into several varieties ranging in color from pure white to deep magenta and in flavor from sweet to pungent. The white salad turnips of the summer tend to be crisp, juicy and sweet. The gold, scarlet, and purple top turnips are also crisp but tend to be denser and more assertively flavored. While winter turnips have a lovely mustardy flavor raw, their buttery sweetness is drawn out when tossed in oil and roasted.

Rutabaga or swede is closely related to the turnip and may be a cross between the turnip and cabbage species. Rutabaga is milder, sweeter and starchier than a turnip. The pale yellow flesh is rendered sweeter and more golden by cooking. Boil and mash rutabagas for a rich and peppery alternative to mashed potatoes, add to soups, or roast with rosemary and thyme along with other winter vegetables such as squash, onions, potatoes, and beets.

Winter Roots Soup

1 white onion, peeled and roughly chopped

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 ½ cup celeriac, peeled and roughly diced

3 cups mix of rutabaga, turnips, and russet potatoes, peeled and roughly diced

2 ½ quarts organic chicken stock

½ cup single cream

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3-4 Tbsp. truffle oil

In a large pot, cook the onion in the olive oil for about five minutes until translucent and soft but not browned. Add the diced vegetables, a bunch of thyme tied with kitchen twine, and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the cream, bring back to a boil, then remove the thyme and purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then add the truffle oil tablespoon by tablespoon until the soup is flavored to your taste. Keep in mind, the oil can vary in strength depending on the brand. Finish with chopped parsley and thyme.

Ginger Glazed Turnips
Now is the perfect time to make these ginger glazed turnips as all of the ingredients are in their prime.

The yellow ginger harvest has begun in Hawaii and we are once again receiving weekly shipments direct from Kolo Kai farm. This ginger is the freshest we see all year – harvested on Mondays we receive shipments each Wednesday. The papery skin is just starting to develop so for the most part no peeling is required. Juicy and tender, the ginger grates like butter.

Citrus season is also in full swing and while a navel or Valencia orange would work well for this recipe, one could also play around with specialty citrus. Try a TDE tangerine for a robust orange flavor with a pert but balanced acidity. Or a blood orange for its berry-like accent. Or choose from any of the many rotating oranges, tangerines, or mandarins that will come and go over the next few months.
When selecting turnips, choose from scarlet, gold or purple-top turnips.

1 lb. turnips, scrubbed and cut into wedges

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1-inch piece of ginger, grated

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. honey

Juice and zest from ½ orange

3-4 sprigs thyme

Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the turnip wedges and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the turnips begin to caramelize (about 10 minutes). Add the ginger, garlic, honey; stir to combine. Add orange juice and thyme and cook until the juice has reduced into a glaze. Finish with zest and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Rutabaga Latkes
Just about any recipe that calls for potatoes can be made more flavorful and healthful by substituting with rutabaga. Latkes, or potato pancakes, are often associated with Hanukkah but they have far reaching roots in many European cuisines. They are incredibly versatile–they can be made with a number of different vegetables and can be made savory or sweet. My personal favorite are rutabaga latkes with smoked salmon and crème fraiche.

1½ lbs. rutabaga, grated

½ cup white onion, grated

1 tbsp chopped garlic

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

4 eggs, beaten

4 tbsp Grapeseed oil

Heat oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion and garlic until translucent but do not brown. Add rutabaga and cook until just tender. Remove from the skillet and allow to cool in a large bowl. Once the vegetables have cooled, add the salt, pepper, and eggs. Stir to coat the vegetable mixture. Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Using a small ladle or measuring cup, add scoops of mixture to the skillet and flatten. Cook until browned on both sides. Serve with lox and crème fraiche garnished with chives.