Recipe of the week: The humble rutabaga: A root vegetable worth waiting for

A gratin made from rutabaga and turnip is a perfect Thanksgiving side dish.

“Don’t be afraid of rutabagas,” said Andrew Carmellini in American Flavor (HarperCollins). These “ugly, waxy, turnipy-looking” root vegetables may look unappetizing in the produce aisle, but their flavor once cooked is a wonderful balance of sweet and bitter.

The rutabaga is among the last vegetables to come out of the ground before winter sets in, and it’s just one of many ingredients I learned to appreciate while traveling the country to catalog the diversity of American cuisine as I planned the opening of my second New York restaurant, the Dutch.

The recipe below is, to me, “all about Midwestern fall flavors.” It pairs rutabagas with maple syrup and cream for a “sweet, savory, harvesty” gratin that is “the perfect Thanksgiving dish.” Still, don’t despair if you’re not on side-dish duty for the holiday. Try it with a Sunday roast sometime. It’s also perfect for a cold winter night.

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Recipe of the week

Rutabaga and turnip gratin with maple syrup

(If you can’t find rutabagas, an all-turnip version is just as good.)

2 medium-size rutabagas

2 medium-size turnips

3 cups heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of ground nutmeg

1 tbsp unsalted butter

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp fresh-ground black pepper

2 fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves chopped (about 2 tsp)

Leaves of 9 fresh thyme sprigs (about 2 tsp)

¹/³ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut ends off rutabagas and turnips and peel them with a knife. Slice the vegetables as thin as possible, using a mandoline if you have one. The slices don’t need to be perfect; just save good-looking ones for the top of the gratin and bury the others.

Combine cream, maple syrup, cayenne, and nutmeg in medium-size pot and place over medium heat. While mixture is heating toward a boil, grease bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter. Pile root vegetables in a large bowl and toss with salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme.

When cream mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat. Arrange one third of root vegetables in baking dish. Pour a third of the cream mixture over vegetables, and sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan (about 2 tbsp). Then add another third of the root vegetables, and so on. Don’t overfill the dish: Cream should stop just below top, so it doesn’t bubble over in the oven. Cover the baking dish with tin foil and place on middle oven rack.

After half an hour, uncover the dish, then bake for another hour or so, until top is browned and there’s only a little liquid left. You can serve gratin as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, but it’s better to let it settle for a while, so that the turnips absorb a little more liquid. Serves up to 8 as a side dish.

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