The Not-So-Humble Parsnip
It may be the time of year, but there are words and phrases that are putting me inexplicably on edge. Along with 'roaring log fire' beloved of pub reviewers, and 'comforting' in relation to cold-weather recipes, 'humble' is rant-worthy in my book. Invariably used to describe root vegetables, particularly parsnips, it's been part of the food writer's lexicon for far too long. Yes – parsnips are commonplace rather than exotic, understated maybe, but humble they are not.
Bizarrely, we import parsnips from as far away as Tasmania even though we grow them on home turf for most of the year. Don't bother with pallid imported specimens; buy your parsnips from a greengrocer or a farm shop, caked in mud and freshly dug. They really do taste better. Snap one in half and you immediately get a heavenly whiff of clean fresh sweetness that heralds the flavour to come.
At this time of year parsnips are a cook's best friend. They lend themselves to all kinds of dishes – soups, gratins, soufflés, and sweet dishes too – but they are at their best roasted. The sugars caramelise beautifully, transforming the ivory root into beautiful golden batons. Cut them into even-sized pieces, or leave whole if small, and chuck them in with the roast potatoes after about 15 minutes.
Also delectable are crispy parsnip wisps for sprinkling on soup or winter salads. Peel two small parsnips and slice into very thin matchstick strips. Heat 4 tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a small frying pan until shimmering. Stir in the parsnips and keep stirring for 2–3 minutes until golden. Remove immediately and drain on paper towels.
Cut into matchsticks and lightly steamed, young parsnips make a lovely salad with grilled smoked mackerel and slightly bitter leaves. Sliced paper-thin, they can even be eaten raw in a wintery white salad. Mix them with finely sliced kohlrabi, celeriac and black or white radishes. Dress with a lemony yogurt dressing and sprinkle with a shower of snipped chives or parsley for colour.
Moving on to sweeter things, parsnips really excel in cakes and desserts. Think beyond carrot cake and use parsnips instead. Try them in my recipe for Spiced Parsnip and Ginger Cupcakes with Orange Drizzle.
You can also steam and mash them for an excellent lemon meringue pie filling, or combine them with pears and almonds in a cardamom-scented cobbler. You can learn how to make the cobbler at my Baking with Veg: Puddings and Pies class on 6 February.
© Christine McFadden, January 2015