I’m on a one-woman mission to save the rutabaga.
Which, according to my research today, is also called a “Swede” in Europe. I was in the midst of making a Scotch broth soup with my leftover holiday lamb and Jamie Oliver advised that I should chop up a Swede and throw it into the pot along with my vegetables.
Perhaps a soup for Jeffrey Dahmer, but I vow to keep my soups human-free. Let’s refer to rutabaga using its North American lingo. And to complicate things with one more rule, let’s avoid the common Southern pronunciation “ruda-beggers” which is even more worrisome than “Swede”.
If you’re A) from Europe or B) from the South and would like return the linguistic praise, feel free. I’m Canadian and come pre-packaged with a hot mess of language issues. I call the garbage disposal a “garberator”, pronounce basil with a soft “a” and if you steal my two-four, there might be a kerfuffle, but I can be easily repaid in peameal bacon. If it dribbles I’ll just wipe my face with a serviette.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk soup.
You may recall that I introduced rutabaga to my kids as part of our mystery food challenge. One of the interesting observations was that rutabaga smells and tastes a little like broccoli. Lauren mentioned it first, and I guffawed but then brought the object right under my nose, and sure enough, the essence of broccoli itself.
I had visited the farmer’s market last weekend and bought two more rutabagas. Broccoli is a favorite in our house, making rutabagas appealing by proxy. They’re easy to prep- just peel off the skin and dice them for a stove-top simmer or a long, slow roast.
My parents were visiting for Christmas this year, and after a few nights of rich meals, soup felt like a welcome change. I had my rutabagas and some other support vegetables on hand, namely carrots, onion and celery. And I had broccoli on the brain.
I adore broccoli cheddar soup – it feels both healthy and indulgent. Cold weather food at its best. And just as I’d channeled my inner Emeril with the goat milk caramel episode, I thought “SELF! Rutabagas could stand in for broccoli in a broccoli cheddarish soup.”
I gave it a go.
And it was perfect. The kind of dish where the clouds part, the heavens send their multicolored rays down to Earth, leprechauns emerge in three-piece suits, and in the midst of this spectacle sits a pot of rutabaga soup.
And then I botched it.
When preparing soup with cheese, handle with care. Take the soup off the burner and stir your cheese off the direct heat.
Do not make the soup, take it off the burner, decide to drive around your neighborhood for an hour in a golf cart to admire the holiday lights. Drink a beer or two from your two-four, put the soup back on the burner, ask everyone if they’re ready for dinner, take the soup off the burner when they say they need more time. Cool the soup, reheat the soup vigorously, and then serve.
It will turn out grainy. Edible, delicious even, but grainy. Cheese is temperamental like that. It likes to be treated with respect; flirt with any other activities and it’s game over.
It’s like carefully wrapping a Lalique vase and then banging it once on the ground before gifting it to your intended recipient.
I should have known better, but over the holidays, alcohol, fun, and family discourse seem to get the better of you. Holiday baking is too accessible (read: unwrapped and on the kitchen table), prompting you to sneak a pignoli cookie here, a teensy slice of fruitcake there. Another cocktail? Twist my arm why don’t you.
Holiday mealtime (especially when you’re the cook) snakes its way down the priority ladder, down to the place where “laundry” and “basement re-org” are hanging out and making friendship bracelets for each other.
And there ain’t no shame in that. Rudabeggars or not, that’s what the holidays are for. I just wish that I could have photographed the soup that was as perfect as the first bite. Right when the cheese went in and melted like milk chocolate on a hot summer day. The soup that existed before the golf cart joyride. Before the extra beers. Lucky for me, these pictures don’t convey my secret. “Lovely!” they holler… “Creamy deliciousness!” “Best soup I ever had” they seem to say. Which is how I’ll remember that first bite.
And which is how you’ll serve this soup, promise?
- • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- • 1 medium chopped onion
- • 2 large peeled and chopped rutabagas (about 5 cups)
- • 2 large carrots, chopped
- • 2 celery stalks, chopped
- • 4 finely chopped tablespoons of fresh sage, divided
- • ¼ cup flour
- • 2 cups heavy cream
- • 6 cups chicken stock
- • 2 Tablespoons chopped pumpkin seeds
- • large pinch red pepper flakes
- • 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
- • salt and pepper to taste
- In a medium saucepan on medium heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the butter until melted.
- When the butter has melted, add the flour, whisking every so often for 3-4 minutes.
- Slowly whisk in the heavy cream, making sure that there aren’t any lumps. Then slowly whisk in the chicken stock.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it slowly simmer away on the stove for about 20 minutes so that it has a chance to thicken.
- While the sauce is thickening, in a large Dutch oven, heat the remaining 1 Tablespoon of butter on medium heat and then sauté the vegetables until beginning to soften (about 10 minutes).
- Add 2 Tablespoons of chopped sage and sauté 1 more minute.
- When the sauce has thickened (it should still be fairly thin- not enough to coat the back of a spoon), add it to the large Dutch oven with the vegetables. Let the vegetables and sauce simmer together on medium low for another half hour until the vegetables are tender.
- While the vegetables are cooking, make your sage and pumpkin seed garnish, by warming the olive oil in a small sauté pan on medium heat, adding your sage and pumpkin seeds and sautéing for a minute to release the flavors. Season with a touch of salt and pepper and set aside.
- Puree the soup with an immersion blender.
- Add the red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper, and then slowly, off heat, add your sharp cheddar cheese. Let the cheese melt and then serve in bowls, topped with the pumpkin seed and sage gremolata.
- Soup is best if eaten the moment that the cheese is melted - without reheating. If you need to reheat, do so gently, taking care not to boil or the soup will become grainy.