The Not-So-Humble Parsnip
I wouldn’t normally consider parsnips in spring but this year is an exception – the weather remains arctic and there are still frosts at night. The good news is that these conditions are ideal for the parsnip, so now is the time to enjoy them before spring vegetables take over.
The parsnip is one of those quietly understated root vegetables, often (too often, in my opinion) described as ‘humble’. Yes, parsnips are commonplace rather than exotic, stalwart certainly, but humble they are not. They’re a cook’s best friend, lending themselves to all kinds of dishes – soups and soufflés, gratins and roasts, chips and crisps, for example.
Parsnips are especially good roasted – the sugars caramelise beautifully, transforming the ivory root into delectable golden batons. Cut your parsnips 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 got going.
Cut into matchsticks and lightly steamed, young parsnips make a sensational salad, especially partnered with smoked mackerel and slightly bitter leaves. They’re also good raw, sliced paper-thin in a wintry white salad, along with kohlrabi, celeriac and white radish (mooli). Anoint with a lemony yogurt dressing and sprinkle with a shower of snipped chives for a touch of colour.
Also delectable are Parsnip Wisps. They add contrasting crunch to silky smooth soups. Try them with my Roasted Parsnip and Cumin Soup.
Moving on to sweeter things, parsnips excel in cakes and desserts – yes, really! You can steam and mash them for an excellent lemon meringue pie filling. Or think beyond carrot cake and use parsnips instead. Or try them in my recipe for Parsnip and Ginger Cupcakes with Tangerine Drizzle. Their mild sweetness contrasts well with punchy ginger and citrus.
Parsnips are available most of the year but are at their best during the cold months. I prefer to buy mine from a farm shop or traditional greengrocer, 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, April 2021