The Not-So-Humble Parsnip
It may be the time of year, but there are words and phrases that are putting me on edge. Along with 'roaring 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.
Parsnips are a cook's best friend, lending themselves to all kinds of dishes – soups, gratins, soufflés and salads, for example. They're especially good roasted – the sugars caramelise beautifully, transforming the ivory root into beautiful golden batons. Cut them into even-sized pieces, or leave whole if small. Roast them on their own, or with carrots for contrasting colour, or
add them to roast potatoes after about 15 minutes, once the potatoes have
Also worth trying are Parsnip Wisps – they add contrasting crunch to silky smooth soups. Try them with my Roasted Parsnip and Cumin Soup.
Cut into matchsticks and lightly steamed, young parsnips make a lovely salad, especially with grilled smoked mackerel and slightly bitter leaves. Sliced paper-thin, they can even be eaten raw in a wintry white salad, mixed 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
Moving on to sweeter things, parsnips really excel in cakes and desserts. You can steam and mash them for an excellent lemon meringue pie filling – yes, really! Or think beyond carrot cake and use parsnips instead. Or try them in my recipe for Parsnip and Ginger Cupcakes with Tangerine Drizzle. The mild sweetness of the parsnips contrasts well with punchy ginger and citrus.
Parsnips are available most of the year, but are at their best after the first frosts have brought out their natural sweetness. I prefer to buy mine from a traditional 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.
© Christine McFadden, December 2019