Tuesday, January 03, 2012

For the Love of Parsnips


Parsnips. One of those odd, under-loved, and let's admit it, humble vegetables. If we even know what they are, we might mutter something like, "Oh, those--aren't they white carrots?" At least this is true in the States. In the UK and other European countries, parsnips have much more of a culinary impact. In fact, for hundreds of years, parsnips were more popular--and better known--than the more common potato. Humans have been eating parsnips for more than 2,000 years. Rich in nutrients (vitamin C and folate among them) and said to help lower blood pressure as well as aid in recovery from colds, you could certainly eat parsnips as a health food.

But why eat them other than because of their availability and healthiness? Well, If all you've experienced of Patinaca sativa is the rubbery, ancient roots sold by most American grocers and tasting nothing incrementally different from soggy cardboard, then it's small wonder. Ah, but a freshly pulled parsnip is another thing altogether--honestly, like a completely different vegetable. I found this out when my husband, the garden and landscape genius, handed some parsnips to me, earth still clinging to them. I mustered little enthusiasm, until I actually bit into a tender morsel of licorice-butter parsnip. A potato, a carrot, fennel--all of those flavors are in a fresh parsnip. Mildly sweet (think, jicama sweetness level) and with a definite anise undertone, fresh parsnips are simply DIVINE.

What to do with parsnips:

Peel, cut into chunks, cut out any woody or dark areas, and toss them into . . .

—any soup or stew. Unlike carrots, parsnips maintain their flavor longer under the duress of liquid cooking.

—a roasting pan, dotted with butter, and then bake at 400 for 30 minutes--stirring occasionally--for a full-on savory treat (you can also drizzle on a bit of honey or maple syrup for added fun).

—a steamer with a bit of water (can also be sliced). Dress as you like and serve as a hearty side dish.