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 layer of flavor. They also bake up nice and tender and creamy, making them wonderful gratin candidates. This recipe would make a nice holiday side dish, or Sunday dinner accompaniment to serve with roast beef or lamb.
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 pairings. This gratin is rich and indulgent — 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, 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, although still sweet, which is also what makes them pair so well with wild mushrooms. I used a mixture of crimini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms in this recipe, but use whatever varieties look good to you.
1 1/2 pounds parsnips (5 to 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 cups 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 12x8-inch inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a medium skillet, warm the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. 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.
Layer the ingredients into the baking dish: Begin with a single layer of parsnip slices, season with salt and pepper, then layer on half of the leek and mushroom mixture, and finally 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.