I’ve always been a fan of the underdogs in the produce realm. While resplendent tomatoes and juicy peaches are the effortless beauty queens of the garden, I’m drawn to the hard-working dirty roots. Carrots, rutabagas and beets are like vibrant treasures pulled from the dark soil, their buoyant nutrition and flavor the result of soaking up and storing vital nutrients from the ground as well as the plants they support.
Technically, the term “root vegetables” includes only those that are either tuberous roots or taproots and include beets, cassava, carrots, horseradish, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, turnips and parsnips. Other categories of underground vegetables include: bulbs (onions, garlic), corms (celeriac, eddo, taro), rhizomes (ginger, galangal, turmeric), and tubers (potatoes and the like). That said, most people refer to the whole shebang of edible underground plants as root vegetables.
This range of underground vegetables varies from the quotidian carrot to more otherworldly roots like celeriac–which has amazing taste, but looks like an alien life form. The parsnip falls somewhere in between. It’s carrot-like shape feels familiar, but its dull beige pallor doesn’t scream “ooooh, pretty” (unless you’re a vegetable weirdo like I am). Parsnips are sweet, like carrots, but instead of that carroty flavor, they taste nuttier and more earthy. They can be eaten raw, especially when they are small and young–but when cooked they achieve a sweet toastiness that leaves some of us fairly smitten.
Parsnips have been eaten since antiquity, and for a long time were more popular than potatoes. Before potatoes were introduced in the United States in the mid-19th century, parsnips were the root of choice.
Parsnip doesn’t grow well in warm climates since it requires frost to develop flavor–parsnip is great for gardeners in areas with short growing seasons. There are a number of butterflies that feed on parsnip, including its namesake, the parsnip swallowtail (AKA the black swallowtail).
Tips for Parsnips
• Parsnips should be peeled. For cooked parsnips, you can boil or steam the root and then scrape off the skin to preserve nutritional value.
• You can steam and mash parsnips like potatoes, but their best flavor is emphasized by roasting or sauteeing.
• If you have very large parsnips, trim out the woody, bitter core before or after cooking.
• To avoid parsnip mush, add chunks to soups and stews near the end of the cooking time.
• Peeled and pared parsnips oxidize like apples when exposed to air, so cook right after prepping or soak them in water with a little lemon juice.
• Parsnips are generally a good substitute for either carrots or potatoes in most recipes.
• Herbs especially nice with parsnips include basil, dill, parsley, thyme, and tarragon.
• 1 pound of parsnips is equivalent to: 4 servings; or 4 to 6 small parsnips; or 3 cups chopped parsnips; or 2 cups chopped, cooked parsnips.
Easy Super Delicious Roasted Parsnips
2 pounds medium parsnips, peeled, cut on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick chunks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh herbs (tarragon’s my fave with parsnips)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss first 3 ingredients in bowl. Spread parsnips in single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
2. Roast parsnips 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn parsnips; roast until caramelized on the edges and tender in the center, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer parsnips to plate and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with herbs.
What does Dr. Brent say about parsnips?
Parsnips are related to carrot and celery and have a slightly celery-like fragrance and a sweet and peppery taste. They have a high sugar content and in the 16th century, Germans realized the high sugar content of the parsnip and used it to make wine, jams, and flour.
If the parsnip root gets cold, either before or after the harvest, its flavor will be much sweeter. We’ve used them for mundane purposes like mashed parsnips instead of mashed potatoes. Parsnips are a good source of folate and Vitamin C, and one bite, not matter how they are prepared, will convince you of their fiber content.
Visit Beekman 1802 for more about gardening, food and nutrition from Dr. Brent and to learn about The Oldest, Largest Garden Party in America’s History.