Root Vegetables: Turnips, Rutabags, Parsnips|
Most people are familiar with common root vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots and the
like, but aren't as knowledgeable about the not so glamorous ones, namely turnips, rutabagas, and
parsnips. These root vegetables are often referred to as lowly vegetables, which seems to be more of
an indication of their status than of their location, but root vegetables have recently enjoyed a
renaissance of sorts. These under-appreciated, subterranean beauties are in fact nutritious additions to
a variety of soups and stews, loaded with carbohydrates and dietary fiber. They are also rich in flavor,
and easy on the pocketbook. Rutabagas and turnips are members of the mustard family while parsnips are
fibrous root vegetables related to the carrot.
The major turnip-and-rutabaga-producing states are California, Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio,
Oregon, Texas, and Washington. A significant amount of both are imported from Canada. Parsnips are also
grown in Canada as well as in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan,
Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Storage and Selection
Select small to medium turnips that are heavy for their size, with good color and firmness, without bruises, soft spots, or signs of shriveling. The stem end may be somewhat flattened. Winter turnips are often larger, with a much tougher skin, so select carefully during that time of the year. If the turnip greens are still attached, they should be bright and fresh looking. The greens will draw moisture from the turnip root, so remove them immediately. Stored separately in a plastic bag, the greens will last three or four days. Turnip greens are great when cooked, providing a nutritious and delicious vegetable dish.
Select medium-sized rutabagas, about 4 to 5 inches across, because larger ones can be a bit much to handle. They should be firm, never spongy or soft, and heavy for their size. The wax on the surface of some is merely applied to retain moisture and prolong the rutabaga's shelf life. Both turnips and rutabagas like cold and moist surroundings, so store turnips and rutabagas in the high-humidity bin of the refrigerator. Under these storing conditions, turnips will last as long as two weeks and rutabagas will last even longer, up to two months. If waxed, rutabagas need not be in plastic.
Choose parsnips that are firm, with a good creamy color and without spots, blemishes, cuts, or cracks. They should have a good, uniform shape (about 4 to 8 inches long) and should not be limp or shriveled. Avoid those that are particularly large because they may be too tough. You should also avoid those that are particularly small, since they are not as economical, and will require more preparation time. Parsnips like cool temperatures and dark places. Store them in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator and they'll last two to four weeks. Like turnips, if the roots are still attached, remove them before you store the parsnips, to prevent moisture loss.
Turnips are normally peeled before being used, but if the turnips are small and young, with thin skins, treat them like potatoes and roast them unpeeled after a good scrub. Also treat turnips like potatoes by quartering and then roasting, steaming, or boiling and mashing them.
Rutabagas can be treated likewise, but for my money, I believe they are superior to mashed turnips. Buy yourself a heavy-duty vegetable peeler to help you get through the wax coating and tough rutabaga exterior.
Highly recommended seasonings to use in turnip preparations include garlic, parsley, and dill. Season rutabagas like you would sweet potatoes, by using nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and mace.
Parsnips are usually peeled or scrubbed, and unlike their orange lookalikes, carrots, are almost always eaten cooked. Parsnips can be peeled prior to cooking, or afterwards. Parsnips roast well, accompanied by carrots and perhaps the other root vegetables mentioned here, and they purée nicely with potatoes or other root vegetables. Baking, steaming, and microwaving are also excellent preparation methods, and don't overlook the possibility of small chunks, slices, or julienne strips of parsnips quickly sautéed. However you choose to prepare parsnips, try not to overcook them, because they are usually tastiest when they are just slightly tender.
Carrot seasonings are appropriate for parsnips. That means nutmeg, parsley, dill, and orange flavorings. Roasted garlic turned nutty and sweet is also a good seasoning.
Parsnips love cool weather; frost, or even frozen ground, does not harm them. Their flavor actually improves with low temperatures, and their starch converts to sugar, giving them a delicately sweet, nutty taste.
Tony's Favorite Recipe
Roasted Winter Vegetables with Basil Oil
Turnips are related to cabbage, and are
therefore part of the cruciferous vegetable family. Most have a snowy white flesh, although some are
yellowish. The exterior coloring and size is the primary difference between the varieties. Turnips can
vary in size and shape tremendously with some reaching fifty pounds. They are grown for both their root
portions, as well as their nutritious turnip green tops. Some, have reddish rings around the crown of
the vegetable root, others are purple. Turnips are low fat and carbohydrate-rich. Flavors are about the
same, although larger, late winter turnips (3 or more inches in diameter) are quite often more pungent
than the smaller (1½ to 2 inches) turnips that appear earlier in the season.
Rutabagas are similar to turnips, which also
puts them in the cruciferous vegetable family. Experts believe rutabagas may be the offspring of the
wild cabbage and the turnip. They have a firm, yellow-orange flesh similar to that found in yellow-flesh
potatoes. They're also more dense and sweeter than turnips, and contain less moisture. On the outside,
rutabagas are half yellow-orange, half burgundy or purple. To add to their shelf life most rutabagas are
waxed. This wax must be peeled or removed prior to cooking.
Parsnip resembles a slightly irregular, pale
version of a carrot. They range in color from white to pale yellow, posses the same tapered look, and
are in the same botanical family. Parsnips can grow much larger than carrots (up to 20 inches), but the
ones you find in the supermarket are typically 5 to 10 inches in length. I think parsnips have a
delightful taste of their own, somewhat starchy like a potato, sweet like a carrot, and a little nutty
as well. They are great as a stand-alone side dish or tasty additions to winter soups and stews.