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Parsnips, Uprooted

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by David Tanis
from Fine Cooking #102, p. 66-71

A parsnip looks like an overgrown white carrot, but that’s where the similarity ends. Though the two are cousins, a parsnip’s flavor is far more complex. Sweetness, a perfumed nuttiness, a touch of chestnut, and a hint of winter squash, combined with a delicate starchy texture—these are the things that make the humble, often neglected parsnip a root vegetable worth rediscovering.

Sweet and earthy, with a touch of spice, the parsnip may well be winter’s most exciting root vegetable. Try it in one of these six tasty dishes—dessert included:

Parsnip Buttermilk Pie Parsnip, Potato, and Scallion Pancakes
Parsnip Buttermilk Pie   Parsnip, Potato, and Scallion Pancakes
Parsnip and Leek Soup with Cumin and Mustard Seeds Mashed Parsnips with Lemon and Herbs
Parsnip and Leek Soup with Cumin and Mustard Seeds   Mashed Parsnips with Lemon and Herbs
Parsnip Risotto with Pancetta and Sage Lamb Stew with Parsnips, Prunes, and Chickpeas
Parsnip Risotto with Pancetta and Sage  

Lamb Stew with Parsnips, Prunes, and Chickpeas

     
Parsnip and Carrot Pickles with Chiles    
Parsnip and Carrot Pickles with Chiles    

Shop & Store

Grown in cold climates, parsnips are usually harvested in the fall and, like carrots, stored in cool root cellars. However, frost will convert their starches to sugar, concentrating their sweet flavor, so many home gardeners and small growers keep their parsnips in the ground and dig them as needed through winter and early spring. That’s why you’re likely to find the sweetest parsnips at a farmstand or farmers’ market.

While there are several varieties of parsnips, most markets don’t usually indicate which they’re selling, mainly because the differences in flavor, texture, and appearance are minimal. Your best bet is to choose what looks freshest. Here are some tips:

Shop: Parsnips should be firm and of uniform color; blemishes can be a sign of decay. Opt for medium parsnips, as very large ones can be woody and bitter.

Store: Wrap unwashed parsnips in paper towels or newspaper and store them in a loosely closed plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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