Winter is the time to enjoy seasonal root vegetables such as parsnips. They resemble carrots without the orange color and have a slightly more complex and sweeter herbal flavor. The two vegetables taste great together, and nearly any recipe calling for either carrots or parsnips will produce lovely results if you use a combination of the two.
Besides their sweet flavor, parsnips bring vitamin C, folate and potassium to the table. Parsnips played a more prominent role in Mediterranean and British Colonial cooking before the potato became the root vegetable of choice.
Parsnips, carrots and potatoes can be cooked the same way — roasted, boiled or fried. Parsnips have great body when pureed (delicious with roasted meat or fish), and when roasted, they caramelize on the outside and turn creamy within. They make a silken creamy soup without the need for additional cream.
Buy a pound or two of them on your next trip to the market and you'll discover a new star for your winter Sunday suppers. Here are tips for enjoying parsnips:
• Choose small to medium creamy white roots that are smooth, firm and blemish-free. Soft spots, limpness and a shriveled end are signs that a parsnip is old and will probably be woody and dry. Winter parsnips are often sweeter than those picked in the fall, since cold weather converts their starches to sugars.
• Keep parsnips unwashed (moisture speeds decay) in a ventilated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.
• Small, tender parsnips may be peeled and grated raw into salads.
• Peel parsnips just before cooking just like you would carrots. If you find a bitter woody core in a large parsnip, remove it with a paring knife.
• Peeled and pared parsnips will turn dark when exposed to the air, so cook them right away or hold them in water with a bit of lemon juice added.
• Parsnips are slightly softer than carrots and require a shorter cooking time. To avoid mushy parsnips, add them to soups and stews near the end of the cooking time.
Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school and co-author of “Mmmmiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.”