Monday, June 7, 2010

What The Heck Is A Parsnip?

That was the question. What exactly is parsnip? This time the question didn't come from a stunned Target employee (a la the Papaya search ) rather, it came from myself as I was reading through one of our cookbooks. I had spotted a recipe for roast vegetables that seemed it would nicely compliment another roast dish on the menu this week (tune in tomorrow to see what that dish is), this recipe didn't seem to complicated and it held all the standard roasted vegetable fare - potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and...parsnip? 

Turning to Maggie, I asked "What the heck is parsnip" and (as I could discern from her bewildered stare) she didn't have any idea either. So, we turned to our favorite kitchen aid - 'Cook's Bible' for the solution. 

Parsnip: "Fresh parsnips are best during fall and winter, although they are available all year around. They should always be cooked. You can boil and mash, or parboil and roast them. You can also steam and saute parsnips, and they are very good in soups." 

Sadly, our kitchen aid wasn't much help either. Wanting to know more, I began a full blown inquiry into parsnips. I wanted to know everything I could about the veggie (where it's grown, what it's related to, where it sleeps, who it associates with...) Now that my search is concluded (and I feel I write a major scientific study on parsnips) I figured now was a great time to debut the second 1/2 of our 'Monday Feature'. So, I'm proud to present the inaugural posting of "Feature Food" where we will detail one ingredient to be used in this week's recipes. 

Feature Food: Parsnip 


Parsnip is a root vegetable, directly related to the carrot.Parsnips are larger (both in length and girth) than most carrots and typically are white in color. Parsnips have the texture of a sweet potato and the flavor of a strong carrot. 



Parsnips originate from the Mediterranean region, where they original grew to about the size of a baby carrot. The Roman Empire is credited aiding in the spread of parsnips throughout Europe. It was during this expansion that the Romans noticed parsnips grew larger the further north they were planted. 

This is one of the phenomena of the parsnip. They actually excel in cool to cold climates and will not grow in warm regions at all. In fact, parsnips achieve their greatest flavor potential after a few frosts. As such, parsnips are planted early in the spring (as soon as the ground is tillable) and not harvested until late fall until just before the ground freezes solid. 

Uses Today: 

In the mid 19th century, the world was introduced to the wonders of the potato, and the parsnip became old news. The American colonies ceased cultivating the root, and many of the dishes parsnips were featured in substituted the pale root for the new kid in town - the potato. Essentially, parsnip was no longer welcome at the 'cool kid table' in vegetable high school. 

Parsnip is now only grown in the northern most regions, where shorter summers and longer winters favor its growth. Parsnips are still a staple of British holiday dishes - specifically acting as a Christmas tradition (they are typically featured in roasts). 

Picking a good parsnip: 

Parsnip are at their best when they are firm to the touch. As they age, they become squishier in form and tend to droop or sag. Parsnips also brown with age, so when searching for a good parsnip - be sure to choose the whiter of the bunch. Parsnips can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks (much like a carrot). 


Armed with all of this knowledge, we set out in search of parsnips. And, much to our delight our local Hy-Vee had this waiting for us: 

Success! Now that we're armed with parsnips (4 in all) I cannot wait to try one in a recipe. (Funny aside here - as we were checking out at Hy-Vee - our friendly checkout guy held up the bag of parsnips and said "And these arrrrrre???" Don't feel bad kid, we were in your boat no more than a day ago!) 

 As I mentioned, I'm going to take a crack at a roast vegetable recipe (in addition to another recipe) for tomorrow's blog. Be sure to check back tomorrow night to see the results. Here's hoping that all of this research pays off (and that it was actually worth it, I'd hate to find out that parsnip has the flavor of an old sock after going through all this effort to find and study them). 

That's all we have for you tonight. I hope you enjoyed the debut of the "Feature Food" feature of the site. As we've discussed, we plan on rotating between "Feature Food" and "This Week's Ingredients" regularly on Mondays. As always, thank you for spending a little of your evening with us, and until tomorrow - 

~ Cheers 

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