Fanny Farmer started it. Our ridiculous national prejudice and disdain of parsnips, I mean. In 1906 she ensured that few Americans would taste this winter root vegetable with the condescending phrase, “Parsnips are raised mainly as cattle food.”
Now, they’re often on better restaurant menus for their versatility and the need to present something other than a too-familiar potato. They seem to be making a comeback in the home venue, if only because *CSA members are bewildered when they’re delivered this heretofore unknown vegetable.
I’ve usually only roasted smaller parsnips as a vegetable side to my main course. It wasn’t until I began research for this article that I realized how complicated people make cooking this root. Don’t be intimidated. Just think of them as albino carrots with a nutty potato flavor.
This recipe, from Epicurious.com and originally published in the November 2003 issue of Gourmet, sounds like the civilized version of what happened once when I over-roasted my parsnips and pretended I meant for them to be mashed from the very beginning.
Potato & Parsnip Puree
• 2 lbs. parsnips, peeled & cut into 1″ pieces
• 2 lbs. baking potatoes, peeled & cut into 2″ pieces
• 1 tbsp. + ½ tsp salt (I would strongly advise omitting this and allowing diners to salt to their own tastes)
• 1 cup heavy cream
• ½ stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter
• ¼ tsp. black pepper
1. Bring parsnips and potatoes to a boil in a heavy lidded pot; allow to simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes until tender. Drain with a colander. Mash with an old-fashioned potato-masher.
2. In a second heavy pot, bring cream, butter and pepper to a simmer.
3. Stir warm vegetables into cream sauce.
• The original Gourmet magazine indicates that the cook will require a “potato ricer or a food mill fitted with medium disc” through which to process the cooked potatoes and parsnips. Maybe these would change the flavor of the finished dish, but I doubt it. I just use an old metal masher.
• Try to purchase smaller parsnips. Any parsnip recipe will require that you peel them, however, if you have older and heavier vegetables, you may need to remove the hard, woody core as well.
• Peeled parsnips turn brown when exposed to air, so be prepared to add them to your recipe or immerse in water.
• Carrots and parsnips can be substituted for each other in most recipes.
* CSA or “Community Supported Agriculture” are those food co-ops that you buy into for a monthly or twice-monthly delivery of freshly grown produce.