Familiar Root Vegetables
Over the years I have become familiar with a variety of root vegetables. I have even pulled a few from the ground and brushed the earth off their homely faces. I have gorged on fresh carrots when they are slender, leggy, and easy to love. I have come to appreciate beets for being well rounded and imbued with raw sweetness and voluptuous color. I’ve watched radishes mature quickly and contribute a crisp blush of piquancy to a salad and I’ve avoided turnips like uncles, earthy and substantial with strong and sometimes objectionable opinions.
Parsnips and I, on the other hand, are practically strangers. While they have a rather common reputation I can’t remember ever growing them in our garden back home. Neither do I remember them being served at our table. I have seldom even seen them on a menu. It wasn’t until late last year that, out of boredom or curiosity, I picked up a bag at the grocery and made their acquaintance. Now I can only wonder - where have they been all my life?
The Nature of Parsnips
The charm of a parsnip is subtle. They are unassuming at their introduction. Even among humble root vegetables, a parsnip is pale and homely. It’s skin is sallow and etched with brown ridges. It’s shape is generally top heavy and it’s waist is thick. Parsnips are like the carrot’s matronly aunt; graying and full-figured. Neither sugary sweet nor piquant, they keep their persuasions to themselves. When pressed, however, they shyly begin to reveal their nature.
Beyond their dowdy appearance and modest character you will discover an unexpected freshness at the heart of a parsnip. Inside there is a hint of citrus, notes of green grass and fresh herbs. The juxtaposition of appearance and aroma makes me smile. Something about its surprising yet gentle unfolding informs me of the hope of spring.
Parsnips are great for roasting. While they are gently sweet, unlike sweet potatoes, they retain their texture nicely, softening without turning mushy, holding their edges while only gently yielding. Sliced into long thin strips they curl slightly in the oven giving them an interesting appearance as they brown. Pair them with beef or lamb or serve as a point of contrast on a vegetable plate.
1 ½ pounds parsnips
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 425F.
Wash parsnips and cut into 3 to 4-inch lengths. Halve thinner pieces and quarter thicker pieces, lengthwise.
Combine parsnips, honey, oil, salt and pepper in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. Seal the bag and shake until the parsnips are well coated.
Spread the coated parsnips on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast at 425F, turning occasionally, until golden brown, approximately 30-35 minutes.
Note: For a more colorful side dish, you can combine parsnips with similarly sliced carrots.