Parsnips often get a bad rep, making it onto many lists of foods people will not eat. I wonder if those who say they hate parsnips have ever actually tasted one. I often suspect not.
I think it is the name that troubles people. For reasons I can’t really explain, parsnips are often associated, in people’s minds, with rutabagas and turnips, both of which can have strong flavors that simply aren’t for everyone.
But rutabagas and turnips are brassicas, as are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and mustard. The parsnip is a cousin of the carrot, and it’s much less common to find someone who hates carrots, though the late writer M.F.K. Fisher admitted to having an aversion to them.
A parsnip is typically sweeter than most, but not all, varieties of carrots. They can be much bigger, too, though a lot of local farmers harvest them before they get bulky. Their shoulders are broader than most carrots and they taper down more quickly and have a longer. thinner tip than most carrots. They are cousins, not twins.
Like their cousins, parsnips are low in calories — a half cup of sliced parsnips has about 55 calories — high in fiber, and full of Vitamin C and trace minerals.
A native of Europe, the parsnip requires cold weather to develop its full flavor and texture. They are harvested once their starch has turned to sugar, which occurs while they are still in the ground, after the first frost.
Parsnips are easy to prepare and require no special technique. They can be cut into pieces about the size of a standard French fry and roasted either solo or with other similarly cut root vegetables, with or without a sprig or two of rosemary.
Those same root vegetables can serve as a bed for roasted chicken or roast beef.
Add them to soups, stews, fried potatoes and scalloped potatoes.
And you know where to find the best, right? Yes, your local farmers market.
One way to enjoy parsnips if you are unfamiliar with them is in a soup.
Here’s I’ve added potatoes and carrots to broaden the flavor and balance out the sweetness of the parsnips.
Roasted Parsnip Soup with Toasted Walnuts and Chives
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound parsnips, roasted in the oven until tender (see note below)
3 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 medium or 2 small carrots, trimmed and minced
1 medium potato, peeled and dice
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— Pinch of ground cardamom
6 cups homemade chicken, duck, or ham stock
— Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup shelled walnuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons snipped chives or chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup creme fraiche
— Olio Nuovo (new olive oil)
Trim the parsnips and chop them into fairly small pieces. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan or soup pot set over medium heat, and when it is foamy, add the onion and carrot. Sauté gently until completely tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the potato, sauté for 2 or 3 minutes more and season with salt, pepper, and cardamom.
Add the parsnips and the stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, until the parsnips are completely tender.