Resembling large albino carrots, parsnips were once a staple in many parts of Europe, especially among the poor. Appreciation for parsnips waned with the spread of the potato, which is a shame because their flavor is anything but humble. Parsnips are complex – sweet, nutty, starchy, and even a bit citrus-y, not to mention nutritious. Like many root vegetables, late fall and winter is the peak time for parsnips. They taste even better after a frost, which converts the roots' starch into sugar.
When buying parsnips, look for firm, ivory-colored roots and avoid those that are limp, shriveled, or brown. Large roots may be fibrous, so choose small and medium ones for better texture and flavor. To store, trim off any green tops and refrigerate the roots for up to a couple of weeks (or perhaps store them in a root cellar).
Most of the flavor in parsnips is right below the skin, so it's best just to give them a good scrubbing rather than peel too much of the outer layer. Larger roots may have a woody core which should be cut out and discarded or saved for stock.
Unlike carrots, parsnips are usually not eaten raw, but there are many ways to cook them. Oven roasting may be the simplest and tastiest way to enjoy parsnips. They can also be boiled, braised, fried, grilled, mashed, puréed, or steamed. Flavor affinities include butter, cream, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Parsnips work well in dishes with potatoes and other root vegetables like carrots, celery root, turnips, and rutabagas. They can also add complexity to stock and creaminess to soup.
• Maple Roasted Parsnips, from Nigella Lawson
• Parsnip and Pear Latkes, from Bon Appétit
• Parsnip, Mushroom and Leek Gratin, from The Kitchn
• Puréed Parsnips, from The Kitchn
• Spiced Parsnip Soup, from Saveur
Any other recipe ideas?
Related: Seasonal Spotlight: Celeriac
(Image: Gregory Han)