Finnish rutabaga souffle is a shoe-in for turkey day dinner
In the vegetable world, the good keepers get taken for granted. If you ask anyone who was reared before trucks began criss-crossing the country to bring summery vegetables to our frozen winter landscape, they will usually express something other than fondness when it comes to the root crops: beets, squash, turnips and parsnips.
But I've noticed that they reserve their highest venom for one tuber in particular: rutabagas. "Beggies!" spat a local source, close to 90 years old. "Feed 'em to the deer!" (Something about his tone betrayed the hidden truth, that perhaps he'd eaten plenty of them in his younger years.)
The waxed specimens in the grocery store aren't much to look at, but if you've ever had them at their best you might give them a try. Good rutabagas have moist, harvest moon-colored flesh with a flavor that takes some sweetness from carrots and squash and some of texture from the potato, yet they have a flavor all their own.
My mother's creamed rutabagas, a slamming side dish that she brings out in the wintertime to accompany a long-cooked pork roast, changed my mind about rutabagas forever. I'll just tell you how it goes, because it's more method than recipe. She boils chunks of rutabaga to fork-tenderness, then whips them, gradually working in enough heavy cream to add lightness to the dish but not so much as to mask the flavor of the creamy vegetable itself. And knowing my mother, it's safe to guess that there's probably a bit of butter in there as well. (Safe to add gobs.)
Although some of the farmers who homesteaded this area clearly grew sick of eating rutabagas, Finnish culture celebrates them. They're hoisted to prominence in a dish called "lanttulaattikko?" a tongue twister of a baked dish that translates to rutabega soufflé, which doesn't sound all that appetizing in our language - about as yummy as "duck soup" sounds. Best to stick with lanttulaattikko?.
I e-mailed a friend of mine in Finland to ask for the recipe. We had cooked together at a couple of fine dining restaurants in Manhattan where we were more apt to be shaving truffles than coarsely mashing 'beggies, so my habit of inquiring about the most traditional of Finnish specialties usually amuses him. He sent the recipe, along with a note: "This is totally basic comfort food, so don't expect miracles. Jazz it up and get back to me."
I don't know if what I did qualifies as jazzing it up or not. Mostly, I just translated the recipe from the metric (taking a wild guess at what a decaliter of rye bread crumbs might look like), added a few sliced almonds to the bread crumb topping for extra crunch, and popped it in the oven.
When it emerged, my mother happened to be in my kitchen and she was happy to help me taste-test. We scooped out a corner just as soon as it hit the trivet, and while it was unreasonably hot, the success of this dish was immediately apparent.
The top billowed and crested before finally settling into a wrinkly nut-brown cap, crusted with addictive bits of buttery bread and almonds. The rutabaga and the cream melted into a soft-textured pudding, earthy and sweet and laced with nutmeg. It was substantial yet light, and after a few bites my mom and I put down our forks at the same time and said, "Thanksgiving."
Do you know how good something has to be to make the shortlist of Thanksgiving side dishes a full six months in advance, and by unanimous vote? Sometimes comfort food does perform miracles.
Finnish Rutabaga Souffle
1 1/2 cups fresh rye bread crumbs, divided (from 5 slices rye bread)
1 extra-large rutabaga, or two medium (2 ? pounds)
1 medium russet potato
Three-fourths teaspoon salt + more for salting water
One-fourth teaspoon black pepper
3 eggs, separated
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
One-half cup (1 1/2 ounces) sliced almonds
3 tablespoons butter, melted + more for baking dish
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Make the rye bread crumbs by pulsing slices of rye bread in a food processor until coarsely ground, leaving some chunks for texture. Measure three-quarters cup into one bowl and three-quarters cup into another.
Cut the top and bottom from the rutabaga with a heavy knife. Stand it on one end and cut off the peel in slabs. Cut the rutabaga into fat slices and then into 2-inch cubes. Peel the potato and cut into 2-inch cubes as well. Combine them in a 2-quart pot and cover with water and add some salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rutabagas are soft when pierced with a fork. Drain.
Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a bowl. Add the yolks to one dish of rye bread, along with the cream, nutmeg, black pepper and salt. Mix to combine.
Add the sliced almonds and melted butter to the other bowl of rye bread crumbs and toss to combine.
In a large bowl, whip the whites and sugar with a mixer until soft peaks form. In another bowl, whip the rutabaga/potato mixture until as smooth as possible. (It will still have some lumps.)
Butter a 1-quart baking dish. Add the egg/cream mixture to the rutabagas and mix well. Fold in the whipped egg whites. Pour the mixture into the dish and top with the reserved breadcrumbs. Bake at 375 for one hour, or until golden brown on top and beginning to pull away from the sides of the dish.