Contributed by Katy Morris
We know it can be frustrating once the temperatures drop and your local farmers’ markets may seem, well, a little lack luster. But there are some interesting vegetables that thrive in the cold weather, resulting in a surprisingly bountiful winter harvest for locavores who know how to bring out the best of these ingredients.
In this month’s Seasonal Snippet series, we’re honing in on the humble parsnip. It might not be the most beautiful veg in the bunch but its versatility and earthy flavor can be sweet and subtle. Here’s all you need to know about the homely parsnip and why this classic root vegetable may surprise you.
What exactly does root vegetable mean?
The term “root vegetable” technically includes only tuberous roots or taproots like carrots, rutabagas and turnips, but people tend to label anything that grows underground, like garlic bulbs, beets, celeriac, ginger and potatoes (all of which are in different categories) as such.
While they are clearly not the most eye-popping sight in the garden, root vegetables’ time spent buried in the deep rich soil allows them to soak up tons of great nutrients from the ground, making them true nutritional gems.
What do they taste like?
When cooked, parsnips give off a subtly sweet, honey-like flavor with a touch of nuttiness. Their sweetness comes from the long time spent growing underground. The cold weather helps convert the vegetable’s starches into sugars, so farmers wait about two weeks after the season’s first frost to harvest. While the smaller ones can be eaten raw, we prefer them cooked to get that toasted, sweet flavor.
What should I look for when buying?
Parsnips look a lot like carrots, but have a distinctly creamy, beige-colored skin. You can find them year round at markets, but right about now is really their time to shine. To get the best ones at the best time of year, make sure they are firm and free of blemishes or soft spots. They should be small to medium in size, as larger ones tend to be more fibrous.
Be sure you are actually choosing parsnips and not parsley roots, as they can look pretty similar (you can usually tell the difference since parsley roots are sold with their greens, whereas parsnips are not).
How should I prepare them?
Be sure to scrub them very well before cooking as these vegetables spend several months underground. Because they are in the dirt for so long, their skins become pretty thick and rough, so peel them before cooking (hang on to those peels though – we love to use them to make homemade vegetable stock for hearty winter soups). Also, note that sometimes they are sold with a light wax coating, which is meant to help retain the vegetable’s moisture and in turn increase its shelf life. Nobody wants to cook or eat wax, right?
What’s the best way to cook parsnips?
They are great accompaniments to stews and soups (when you should add them during the last half hour or so of cooking to get the best flavor and avoid a parsnip mush) and pair really well with herbs like basil, dill, parsley and thyme. These guys are super versatile and can be used as subs for carrots or potatoes. You can steam, mash, boil and fry them, but our favorite way to get the most flavor from them is by roasting or sautéing them.
Since the parsnip is a root veg, they store really well. If you don’t need to use them for a while, just wrap them in a paper towel, put them in a ziplock bag, and throw them in the drawer in your fridge where they will be good for at least a couple weeks. Since the cold helps convert the starches to sugars, they will likely taste sweeter if you decide to refrigerate them before using. Note that you should not peel and cut them if you are going to store them; when exposed to air, they oxidize just like apples do, so either prep and cook or store them straight away!
Other fun facts:
♦ The parsnip was named after the parsnip swallowtail, a type of butterfly that loves to feed on parsnip
♦ Hundreds of years ago, Europeans used parsnip in wine and jam given its high sugar content
♦ Parsnips are rich in folate, vitamin C and fiber
We’ve seen plenty of recipes that invite parsnips as a bridesmaid, but there aren’t too many that honor it as the bride. Leave it to Rachel Carr to create this parsnip-centered recipe that could tempt even the most vigilant naysayer.
You may remember Rachel as the pioneer of Six Main in CT. She has recently closed up shop and relocated to LA, where she is actively working on her blog, The Raw and the Cooked, as well as providing local cooking classes in the area. In the spirit of shopping winter farmers’ markets she suggests that this salad “would be delicious with many other kinds of vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, & sweet potatoes.”
Thank you Rachel, for this inspired recipe and beautiful photos.
This wintry salad is the perfect seasonal starter. Natural sweetness is amped up by roasting both parsnips and pears and coating them in a simple and delicious glaze.
This recipe was shared by Rachel Carr, vegan chef extraordinaire.
This rsalad is vegan, gluten-free and non-dairy (pareve)
- 4 pears, halved and cored with a melon baller
- 6 large parsnips, washed
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar*
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoon potato starch
- 1/4 cup raw pistachios
- 1-2 handfuls of micro greens or baby greens
- 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar for sprinkling on top
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Toss the parsnips and pear halves with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Roast them for 15-20 minutes on a baking sheet. Remove when golden brown and fork tender. We sliced the parsnips into 1 1/2” pieces on the bias after they were roasted before serving, but you can serve them whole!
- In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar and whisk in the brown sugar, potato starch and pumpkin pie spice.
- Bring to a simmer, turn down the heat and allow to reduce for about 10-15 minutes on low heat.
- When it is done, it will coat the back of a spoon.
- Arrange the warm roasted pears, parsnips and baby greens on a plate.
- Drizzle with the balsamic glaze and sprinkle with pistachios.
*We used brown sugar in this recipe, but feel free to substitute palm sugar, agave, maple or any other sugar substitute.