See Also: AndyTalk: Sugar Plumps Cellulose
I conducted a parsnip poll. I asked a group of 18-year olds in a recent cooking class how many of them had ever eaten a parsnip. When the response was a sea of blank faces I backed up and asked how many of them knew what a parsnip looked like. Not a single one had a clue. Clearly they had grown up in parsnip-free homes.
Parsnips look like anemic off-white carrots. And, while they cook like carrots, parsnips have a sweeter, more intense, almost spicy, mildly earthy flavor. They tend to be more fibrous than carrots, so while uncooked parsnips are gaining in popularity most often they're cooked. There are a couple of easy methods to cook your parsnips to perfection. The first is the mashed--potato-method, and the second is the roasted/glazed-carrot-method.
Mashed parsnips have more texture than mashed potatoes. All you need to do is peel and roughly chop parsnips, and boil them in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes. They soften to a mashable consistency and, like potatoes, taste great when you add some butter and season them with salt and pepper.
To dress them up for Thanksgiving this year I'm adding ribbons of Belgian endive and pomegranate seeds to my mashed parsnip recipe. Other options are 1) a bit of creamed horseradish, 2) a tablespoon or two of brown sugar, and 3) sautéed onions.
When I make Roasted and Glazed Parsnips I opt for big chunks over thin slices. If the parsnips are small, I halve or quarter them lengthwise. If they're huge I cut them into thick slices. Next, I toss them in a little melted butter or olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper. I add a little water and cover them with foil. The cover traps moisture, so the parsnips steam for the first 15 - 20 minutes. Then I remove the cover and toss them in some jam. I used cherry jam for the parsnips in the picture, but I also like marmalade, apricot jam, rhubarb jam, and currant jelly. The crucial thing is to wait until the parsnips begin to soften before tossing them in the jam. If you add the jam at the beginning the sugar will impede the softening process and the parsnips can be tough (Sugar Plumps Cellulose). This recipe is also nice with a 50-50 blend of parsnips and carrots. A half and half blend is a good way to introduce skeptical eaters to something new.
Thanksgiving is more than a holiday; it's a meal steeped in tradition. I'd never suggest that you substitute parsnips for sweet potatoes, or beans with almonds, or whatever your family expects on the table. I suggest that you add them to the lineup so that your family and guests have one more reason to give thanks.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.