In the world of vegetables, there may be none more misundertood--and feared--than the parsnip. Water-logged purees made by our mothers have convinced us that this vegetable is deadly dull or worse. That's certainly what I thought until adulthood when an adventurous friend served some deep-fried and dusted with parmesan cheese. Most who have not had similar good fortune still believe this vegetable to be useful for but pig slop (parsnips are part of the feed for the porkers destined for Parma ham), and that's why it's our Ingredient of the Month for November.
In 1730, Tournefort noted in The Compleat Herbal that "they are commonly boiled and eaten with butter in the time of Lent; for that they are the seetest, by reason the jhuice has been concocted during the winter, and are desired at that season especially both for their agreeable taste and their wholesomeness. For they are not so good in any respect till they have been first nipt with cold." This is perfectly true: the frost causes the starches to convert to sugars, and the sugars are considerable enough that the parsnip was used as a common-man's sweetener where honey was both rare and expensive. Although available year round nowadays, because of the need for cold they are a true fall and winter crop.
The name parsnip apparently implies an observation that the parsnip had character similar to a turnip, which is greatly disputable. Instead 'parrot' would have been a better name because of so many shared characteristics with carrots. In fact, Pliny used the single word "pastinaca" in the 1st century for both, and per Wikipedia "Caesar was said to have imported parsnips from Germany where they flourished along the Rhine". Early settlers brought them to America.
Parsnips have a sweet character that, when baked, fried or roasted turns wonderfully nutty. Less so when cooked in water, IMO. As with nearly all vegetables, the fresher and younger the better: they are buttery soft in youth, fibrous and stringy as seniors. Color's a good indicator--generally the lighter in color, the better, though color and shape (terms like bulbs, wedges and bayonets apply) do vary by specie, of which there are a number though, like potatoes, relatively few are grown commercially.
And now a shameful confession: having been converted by the deep fried method, I did absolutely nothing with parnsips myself until I came across a Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit or Gourmet, most likely, which included a recipe for oven roasting batonnets of parsnip and carrot tossed with EVOO, black pepper and fresh thyme. That dish has been on my Thanksgiving table ever since, and I sometimes combine them with other oven roasted vegetables at other times of the year, but I have never cooked parsnips any other way. Not one. [hanging head, shuffling feet]
One of the ways I plan to remedy that is by preparing parsnip pancakes with smoked fish and caper sour cream, a recipe I found on the website of a restaurant devoted to vegetable-based pancakes. It bears a certain resemblance to the food trend noted by the aforementioned Tournefort three hundred years ago: "It is likewise pretty common of late to eat them with salt-fish mixed with hard-boiled eggs and butter."
In fact, googling reveals that pancakes, or latkes, are a popular preparation among parsnip lovers. There are also recips for curries, a multitude of purees, sautes with orange juice and honey, gratins with cream and grand marnier, and the like.
Most commonly, the 'nips are scrubbed or peeled prior to use. Another method, however, is detailed in this charming 1931 description from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes: "Scrub parsnips clean, drop into lightlysalted boiling water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain, scrape off the skin, split lengthwise, and pull out the stringy cores. Dip the pieces in flour and fry in fat until golden brown or mash the parsnips after the cores have been removed, season and form into small cakes before frying." Modern agriculture has made removal of the cores an unneccessary, but its fun to look back at a time when that was not the case.
So, parsnips. That's your mission for this month, cooks, to discover, or rediscover, this wonderful root vegetable, or expand your repertoire of uses for it. At the very least, if you think you don't like parsnips, try them oven roasted, with or without herbs, and lightly salted. If you don't like them that way then it's reasonable to conclude that you won't like parsnips any way at all, but I'll bet they'll convert you.
Anyone else have any favorite uses or methods to share?
Last edited by Jenise
on Mon Nov 27, 2006 8:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov