Parsnips are terribly underrated roots. They’re shaped like carrots and they’re sweet like carrots, but I’ve always found their flavor much more interesting. Along with the sweet is a nutty, herbaceous and almost wild flavor, entirely unlike the tame carrot.
When added to a beef stew or chicken in a pot along with the usual carrots and potatoes, parsnips add another interesting flavor layer. They also bake up nice and tender and creamy, making them wonderful gratin candidates. This recipe would make a nice Sunday dinner accompaniment to serve with roast beef or lamb or perhaps a nice holiday side dish.
This is exactly the kind of side dish I want to keep eating all winter long. Preferably alongside braised meats and roast chickens, which make seemingly natural pairing. This gratin is rich and indulgent, and just the sort of cozy dish you want to be eating when there's a serious chill in the air.
I couldn't agree more with Vanessa that parsnips are an underrated vegetable. They are, and right now is the perfect time of year to put them to use. While they look similar to carrots, their flavor is more earthy and woodsy, though still sweet, which is also what makes them pair so well with wild mushrooms. I used a mixture of cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms in the recipe, though go ahead and use whatever varieties look good to you.
1 1 /2 pound parsnips (5-6 medium parsnips)
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering dish
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces mixed fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper
Peel parsnips and slice about 1/4 inch thick on an extreme angle so as to get the largest slices possible. Butter a 12 x 8 inch inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 400 ° F.
In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, warm the butter and olive oil. Add mushrooms and leeks along with a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they release all of their liquid and begin to brown. Stir in the thyme and white wine, and cook, stirring occasionally, until wine evaporates. Set aside.
Begin to layer the ingredients into the baking dish, beginning with a single layer of parsnip slices, followed by salt and pepper, followed by half of the leek and mushroom mixture, then half of the Parmesan. Repeat with parsnips, more salt and pepper, the remaining leek and mushroom mixture, and most of the remaining Parmesan, reserving a little for the top.
The final layer should consist of the remaining parsnips. Pour the cream over and push down with the back of a spoon to submerge everything as much as possible. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and check for tenderness. When the parsnips are nearly tender, uncover and continue to bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and all the cream has been absorbed. Let sit for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
This recipe has been updated - originally published November 2006.