The ugly duckling of the root vegetable family – the lowly parsnip.
Why should a root veg that is so flavorful and delightful, take a backseat to all other vegetables? Alas, Brutus – it is lamentable, but true!
Grieved for its lonely state, the forlorn parsnip is one of the most unappreciated vegetables. Definitely not parading alongside the sexier, ruffled kale; the earthy, exotic shitake or the accredited showstopper, the Brussel sprout. It’s a darn shame really, considering that it is one of the sweetest, nuttiest and most delectable roots in the veggie arsenal. Mostly a hidden gem in farmers markets and hard to find, they’re available mostly during the holidays, only to be given the once over in Thanksgiving menus.
Parsnips look like albino carrots grown in Bilbo Baggins garden. They have a white meaty flesh like a turnip – but its flavor and scent is that of a carrot on steroids. It flourishes after the winter frosts to become a nutty, sweet peppery morsel.
The Greek and Roman Empires harvested it and in early Roman culture, it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. As time passed, parsnips were highly recognized and adored in Europe, unfortunately for the parsnip, it was unseated by the potato and the carrot in the mid 18th Century. In Italy, they are fed to hogs in copious quantities, were Parma ham originates. And if you’re a swanky city tourist striding into a UK pub and get a greeting like “Oy, fancy a swig of me parsnip wine?” don’t be alarmed, parsnips make an excellent brew, very similar in taste to Madeira.
Parsnips are tremendously versatile. Use them liberally in roasts, as a guest in your Mirepoix and they go a long way and in soups, as they are a show stopping addition to Minestrone, Pasta Fagiol and Root Vegetable soup. They are rather splendid roasted, as that really brings out their sweetness and if you include them in mashed potatoes, you will be inspired and pleasantly surprised with a silky-smooth, tater-parsnip mash.
A good thing to know before roasting them alone or with other veggies is to parboil them for about 2-3 minutes and they will roast evenly, without the end result being a dehydrated fossil.
Get acquainted and introduce yourself gently to the parsnip. In turn, it will reward you with a flavor explosion that will want to make you showcase them more often in your kitchen.