From the archives
Rock solid! That’s what the ice on my windscreen this morning was. It was so hard that here was no way my ice scraper was going to break any ice. At -5 degrees C my hands were freezing onto anything that had the slightest bit of moistness!
Winter has settled down comfortably in our parts. There was beautiful snow all through the Thanksgiving weekend and ever since, it’s been a bit dull, cold and icy.
My neighbor looked appalled; she too was having her trouble removing all the ice from her car. I laughed and said, “We’re getting rid of a lot of calories this way!”
I still cannot believe it’s already the New Year! It’s incredible how 2010 raced past, but I’m ready. Bring it on.
After the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas roast we always try to eat good, healthy food. Not too heavy and just plain down to earth. One vegetable that keeps finding its way into my shopping basket each week is parsnip. I love the sweet mellow flavor parsnips have and the fact that they are not fattening with a mere 20 Kcal. per 100g makes them my favorite vegetable of the season.
To many, parsnips may seem like a new, exotic vegetable, but this vegetable has been around since ancient times.
Parsnips belong to the same family as celery, carrots, and parsley. A rosette of celery-like leaves grows from the top of the whitish, fleshy root. Parsnips look like white-yellow carrots, but the resemblance stops there. Parsnips boast of a more delightful flavor when cooked, which is sweeter than carrots. Raw, parsnips are slightly pungent with a tangy bite to them. In medieval times they even had a reputation as being an aphrodisiac.
Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by the parsnip. Similar to carrots, parsnips are a native of Eurasia, originating in the Mediterranean region. Originally, parsnips were only the size of of a baby carrot when fully grown, however, when the Roman Empire moved north through Europe they found that the parsnip grew bigger the further north they went.
Often parsnips are boiled and mashed like potatoes or in combination with them. One can also use parsnips to enliven soups and pilaf for a delicate and sweet aroma or as a buttery side on their own or when fried as crispy fritters they add more texture and flavor than potatoes.
Health Benefits of Parsnips
The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than its close relative the carrot. Parsnips are also a very good source of potassium and therefore can be considered a health food as they can help reduce blood pressure. They also contain many of the B vitamins and vitamin C although this is reduced through cooking.
In comparison to potatoes, parsnips are lower in calories and contain more fiber. Parsnips also provide a much better source of folic acid than potatoes.
Selecting, Storing and Preparing Parsnips
Parsnips are available year-round in some grocery stores but they are easier to find in winter and early spring. The later parsnips are harvested, the sweeter they will taste, as the extra time and a frost help turn the starch into sugar.
When selecting parsnips, choose small- to medium-sized vegetables as these will be less fibrous and more tender. Make sure they are not “hairy” with rootlets or have obvious blemishes. The skin should be fairly smooth, firm and not shriveled. If the parsnip greens are still attached, they should look fresh and vibrant.
Before refrigerating, clip off any attached greens as they will drain moisture from the root. Parsnips stored in your crisper drawer in a loosely closed plastic bag will keep for a couple of weeks.
Scrub parsnips well, with a small brush, before using. As with carrots, trim both ends and cut off the top to avoid pesticide residues. Scrape or peel a thin layer of skin before or after cooking. I recommend to do it after as the parsnips will be sweeter and full of more nutrients.
Peeled or cut parsnips will turn brown quickly, so either cook them right away or keep them in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice added, then drain and cook.
There are several ways of enjoying parsnips, my favorite however is roasting them. Toss with some olive oil and fresh thyme, bake in an oven and your parsnips will come out sweet and fragrant.
Parsnips can be substituted for potatoes and similarly mashed, cut or whole. You can add parsley, basil or rosemary for a savory flavor to compliment the sweetness of the parsnips.
Parsnips are also great in soups and stews. Make sure you add them near the end of cooking time so they do not become mushy. Parsnips can also be used to make a flavorful stock, or pureed for a tasty soup thickener.
In this recipe I have used parsnips together with potatoes to make delicious homemade gnocchi. A long time ago I showed you how to make basic gnocchi. This takes you to the next level! On their own they really are a delicacy but paired with a piquant ruccola cashew pesto this becomes a heavenly meal.
Recipe: Homemade Parsnip Gnocchi
Printable version of recipe here.
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700g potatoes, cut into cubes and steamed for approx. 20 minutes
300g parsnips, cut into cubes and steamed for approx. 10 minutes
3 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
- Take the warm potatoes and parsnips and mash them finely or put them through a ricer. Allow to cool a bit.
- In a bowl mix the potato and parsnip purée with the yolks, cornstarch, slat, pepper and nutmeg. Incorporate well until you get a soft and smooth dough-type mixture.
- If the mixture is still too moist and another 1-2 teaspoons cornstarch.
- Sprinkle some flour on the countertop and roll the parsnip-potato dough into sausage-like forms about 3 cm in diameter.
- With a sharp knife cut about 2cm thick disks. With a floured fork gently press the gnocchi disks down.
- Allow the gnocchi to rest for 10 minutes.
- In a large pot bring plenty of salt water to a rolling boil. Add the gnocchi and simmer for 4-6 minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon.
- Heat some oil in a large skillet and gently brown the gnocchi on both sides until slightly golden. Serve on pre-warmed plates with ruccola cashew pesto.
Recipe: Homemade Ruccola Cashew Pesto
Printable version of recipe here.
2 bunches ruccola, washed and stems trimmed
80g cashew nuts, dry roasted
50g fresh Parmesan, grated
1-2 garlic cloves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Hint of chili
Pinch of sugar
- Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is coarsely chopped.
- Keep pulsing and start to pour the olive oil little by little, until you get a creamy, paste-like consistency.
- The pesto can be stored in air-tight jars for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
Gnocchi is a big favorite here and this is a great and healthy variation to the purely potato gnocchi. The parsnips lend their wonderful sweet and mellow flavor, paired with the piquant pesto this is such a powerful dish. If pesto is not your thing this works perfectly with sage butter too. A light green salad and you have a brilliant dinner!
This recipe was originally published on What’s For Lunch Honey.