Parsnips Take Root
by Neil Zevni
Parsnips add variety and vitamins galore to any diet

parsnips So you’re browsing in the produce section of your local market, and your wandering glance falls upon a small bin of pale, fat, irregularly-shaped roots. You peer at the label—“parsnips.” Hmmm. You accost the nearest produce guy and pepper him with questions: How do you cook this? What does it taste like? Is it any good? You’re likely to be met with a shrug of the shoulders and a slightly sheepish smile that says, “Heck if I know.”

Parsnips are definitely the unsung and largely ignored sibling of their clan. Sure, you know the other family members well—carrots, celery, parsley, even fennel. But the poor parsnip? Overlooked and shunned.

Well it’s time to turn pity into passion and embark on a discovery of this tasty root. The Romans knew its glories; they not only cultivated it at home, they also carried it with them as they expanded northward. In the process, they discovered that parsnips thrived in those colder European climes.

A delicate, sweet flavor and intriguing texture isn’t all that the parsnip has to offer. Its nutritional profile is impressive as well. Nutritionally speaking, parsnips contain:

  • A substantial dose of fiber—6.5 grams per cup, or about 16 percent of the RDA.
  • A generous helping of vitamins and minerals: vitamins C, E, and K; folate; and potassium, magnesium, and copper.
  • Higher concentration of nutrients: parsnips have three times as much vitamin C and folate, and almost twice as much vitamin K, fiber, and magnesium, as carrots.
Buying Tips
Pick parsnips the same way you would any other root vegetable. They should be plump, firm, and heavy. Avoid any that have soft spots or discoloration. Smaller and fatter is better here; anything over about 8 inches long, or narrow and pointy, is likely to be less tender and sweet. Store them in the crisper drawer of your fridge, wrapped in a paper towel and protected by a perforated plastic bag. They can last that way for a couple weeks.

Then … experiment! Shred raw parsnips into a chopped salad; slow-cook them in a veggie and bean stew; purée them in split pea soup. Or try one of the easy recipes on the following page. You’re gonna love ’em—trust me.

Roasted-Parsnip-Carrot-PureeRoasted Parsnip & Carrot Purée
Serves 6

A gluten-free side dish that pairs well with slow-cooked short ribs or chicken stew.

2 lbs. parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 large shallots, peeled and quartered

1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary

3 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tsp. microplaned orange zest

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, toss parsnips, carrots, shallots, rosemary, and olive oil. Transfer to foil-lined baking sheet, and roast until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Combine parsnip mix with orange juice and orange zest, and purée in a food processor (may require two batches). Or, if you prefer a rougher texture, mash in medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

per serving: 227 cal; 3g pro; 8g total fat (1g sat fat); 40g carb; 0mg chol; 108mg sod; 11g fiber; 15g sugars

Parsnip-Red-Onion-Gruyere-ScrambleParsnip, Red Onion, & Gruyère Scramble
Serves 4

Gluten-free and relatively low in carbs, this filling brunch dish will warm you up on a cool morning.

1 large parsnip (about 1/2 lbs.), peeled and diced

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1/3 cup frozen peas, defrosted

6 whole eggs plus 4 egg whites, beaten

1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese

2 Tbs. chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

  1. Steam parsnips over simmering water until just tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add red onions, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just cooked through and slightly translucent. Add parsnips and peas, and cook about 1 minute. Add eggs, and cook until almost set, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in Gruyère cheese to melt; transfer to serving bowl, and sprinkle with parsley.

per serving: 232 cal; 16g pro; 13g total fat (4g sat fat); 12g carb; 286mg chol; 190mg sod; 3g fiber; 3g sugars

parsnip-leavesNeil Zevnik is a private chef in Los Angeles who is devoted to the idea that "healthy" doesn't have to mean "ho-hum." Visit him online at to learn more.

Garden hazard
If you’re thinking of growing your own parsnips—after all, they attract several species of nbutterflies—you might want to think again. While the root is perfectly benign, the stems and leaves contain a photosensitive chemical that produces redness, burning, and even blisters when it comes in contact with bare skin. That’s why, although you can often find carrots in the market with their feathery tops still attached, parsnip stems are always removed at stores.

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