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.
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.
Neil 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 neilzevnik.com to learn more.
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.