Yesterday I advocated for greater consideration of the modest parsnip, along with the promise of a follow-up of recipes and more (parsnippets?). So here goes nothing.
I recognize this may not be the most popular post, especially in a month that’s included chocolate truffles and chocolate pots de crème. It’s also doubtful that anyone will ever stumble across this entry in a Google quest (“If only I could find the perfect parsnips recipe…”). Regardless, I stand by my conviction that parsnips are highly agreeable, and in the case of the recipe I offer today, at times downright delectable.
So to quote Julie Andrews, let’s start at the very beginning—it’s a very good place to start.
Most parsnips look just like carrots (see my photo from yesterday’s post), only tannish-white. It’s no surprise that they are in fact related to carrots: both are members of the umbelliferae family whose other members include fennel, celery, parsley, chervil and celeriac. The bayonet type of parsnip (long and narrow) are the most common, but you can find parsnips in other shapes, too, including a bulbous type (it looks like the bulldog of the parsnip family) and a wedge type (broad and long).
Flavor is primary when I cook (not always when I eat; I seem to be eating more than my fair share of found, stale cheerios these days, scattered by a certain tiny someone). So I won’t beat around the parsnips bush in that regard: Parsnips have a sweet, somewhat nutty, delicate taste and a mild celery-like fragrance. The texture is starchy, similar to potatoes, but far lighter. Fresh ones have a buttery-soft consistency when cooked, but beware: old parsnips are fibrous and bitter. You can tell if a parsnip is in its youthful prime from its firmness; it should be crisp, smooth and sturdy (i.e., avoid limber parsnips). Also, the whiter ones are, in general, the most tender.
Parsnip nutrition is pretty impressive, too. They are low in calories (about 130 for a whole one 9-inch parsnip of medium girth) and contain no saturated fat or cholesterol. Parsnips boast a substantial amount of fiber, too, as well as significant amounts of folic acid, calcium, and potassium, vitamin C (1/2 cup has 20% of a day’s supply) and small amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, iron, and zinc.
Before I sink deeper into lecture mode (“Buehler…Buehler…”), let’s get on to the cooking. Hurrah, parsnips are easy. Easy! If you’ve washed, peeled, and cooked carrots, you know everything necessary to begin cooking parsnips. Once prepped, go to town: roast; steam; toss into soups and stews for interest and variety; simmer them with a bit of chicken broth and then whip into an elegant puree with a touch of olive oil or butter; add to your favorite roasted vegetable mélange or potato mash; or puree into an exquisite soup (I’ll provide a recipe very soon).
Or try them in my roasted salad. I realized after making it that this marks the second week in a row I’ve proffered a bacon-infused dish; it’s too early to claim a porky pattern, but I’ll reassess next Friday. I might have to make this a temporary trend (umm, Friday night bacon).
If you take a closer look at the recipe, you’ll see I’ve cut out any fussy steps of toasting the nuts and rendering the bacon in separate pans; instead , it’s all accomplished in one foil-lined baking sheet (which leads to my favorite form of clean-up: the 2-second crumble and toss). It also calls for a good amount of flat leaf parsley—it acts as the salad green here, a fresh, slightly citrus contrast to the rustic root vegetables and bacon. Pick up a rotisserie chicken, and you’ve got dinner (that’s all that we did).
Finally, if you need some sort of food snobbery incentive (why not?) to try parsnips, look no further than the most sophisticated of swine: in Italy, pigs bred for the best-quality Parma ham are fed nothing more than a sweet, spare diet of parsnips. So eat up: you’ll be in great company.
Roast Parsnip, Pear & Pecan Salad (with Bacon)
3 parsnips, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 packed cups flat leaf parsley leaves
1 large firm-ripe pear, stemmed, cored and thinly sliced
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Toss the parsnips, bacon and olive oil in a large bowl; season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Add pecans and roast for a further 5 minutes or until parsnips are golden and tender when pierced with a knife. Let cool 5 minutes.
Transfer the warm parsnip mixture to a large, shallow serving bowl. Add the parsley, pears, lemon juice and lemon zest, tossing to coat; season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Divide the salad among 4 bowls and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
(will post nutrition info tomorrow when I am fully conscious)