Parsnips are perhaps the most unassuming and underappreciated members of the underground vegetable family. Sweet as carrots and earthy as squash, they are slightly nutty — reminiscent of chestnuts.
Parsnips turn creamy when boiled and mashed, and when oven-roasted, they become crisp on the outside and silky within. The flavor of parsnips works nicely with a variety of other flavors, from savory herbs such as parsley, thyme and rosemary, to the heat of ginger and chile peppers, to aromatic spices like curry, cumin and coriander.
Slather steamed parsnips with butter, then drizzle them with lemon, lime or orange for a delicious side dish.
You can still find fresh local parsnips in natural food co-ops and at the winter farmers markets. Look for the smaller roots and avoid the huge specimens that tend to be woody and have a tough central core. As with all roots, choose organic parsnips that are grown in chemical-free soil. Parsnips have a thick skin and are best peeled before cooking; use a sturdy peeler or paring knife.
To roast or sauté parsnips, it’s best to slice and blanch them quickly in boiling water, then drain and dry them before proceeding with a recipe.
Parsnips store at least a week when refrigerated in plastic bags. Low in calories, reasonably priced, available and good tasting, parsnips also serve as the root of a good winter soup, as with this recipe.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.