A parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) may not be a vegetable that immediately comes to mind in the produce aisles at the local grocery store, but when it is available to purchase from a farmer’s market or specialty store it certainly can be a crowd-pleaser in recipes. Parsnips are members of the Apiaceae family, alongside other common edible plants such as carrots, celery, dill, and parsley. Though visually almost indistinguishable from carrots, parsnips have their own unique flavor. To get the most out of the root vegetable, understanding its history and uses is key.
The origin of the parsnip is still a bit of a mystery though it is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean. Much of the evidence indicates that it was first cultivated by the Ancient Greeks or Romans. It was a very popular crop at this time as it could be stored for an extended amount of time, even through the winter months. Since that time, parsnips were adapted to many other climates around the world, such as those in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and parts of the United States.
Parsnips are a long root vegetable that can range in color from white to yellow to creamy white. The flavor is comparable to that of a carrot, but with a sweeter, nuttier taste. This sweetness is heightened when cooked, which is a major difference between it and the carrot, as making carrots too sweet can detract from their flavor profile.
The nutritional benefits of parsnips are moderate. Like carrots, parsnips offer a good amount of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. They are also an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C, as well as B vitamins such as folate. Parsnips, however, have fewer calories than carrots and more sugar.
When selecting parsnips for purchase, take a look for ones with a medium girth and are uniform in size and color. Avoid those with bruises or blemishes, along with those that have started to sprout. When preparing parsnips you can either peel the root with a vegetable peeler or a knife; however, many of the nutrients are held within the skin and it is best to keep it attached as much as possible.
Parsnips are widely adaptable and can be used in a variety of recipes from roasting, boiling, sautéing, grilling, or adding to curries and stews. One of the most popular ways to enjoy them is roasted. The procedure is quite simple and yields a delicious side dish that can accompany any meal – simply preheat the oven to 375F (190C), toss the chopped and lightly oiled parsnips in a mixture of herbs and spices, spread them on a baking sheet, and cook for 20-25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to finish.
For those who want to add more of the root vegetable to their diet, there are countless recipes suited to every approach. Parsnips are included in a variety of dishes, such as soups, purees, and gratin. Parsnip fries, which are similar to potato fries and made in the oven, have a nice soft texture, perfect for those who don’t like things too crunchy. Parsnip purées are making a comeback as a vegan alternative to mashed potatoes. For a sweet dish, parsnips can be boiled, mashed and combined with nutmeg to create a delightful cake. This can be served warm and topped with a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
Parsnips are a versatile root vegetable that add both a unique flavor and nutritional value to any meal. With a short ingredient list and a few simple cooking techniques, parsnips can be transformed into a delicious side, main, or snack dish. Though it may be a forgotten pantry staple, parsnips are gaining in popularity and shouldn’t be overlooked in the kitchen.