IMG_0059Continuing my mission to try out the incredible cornucopia of winter vegetables available at the market, we come to parsnips. Panais in French (pah-nay). Have you had them?

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Colored carrots…cousins of parsnips.

As I noted last week, these white cousins of the carrot make regular appearances in baby food in France. Native to the Mediterranean region, these ancient vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals (especially potassium, calcium, vitamin C and Vitamin K1). They grow throughout the winter down here where the ground doesn’t freeze, and for folks up north, back in the pre-fridge days, they would be stored in a root cellar for months. Today, they are forgotten or ignored, though the French seem to still enjoy them.

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Parsley root…another old-time winter vegetable.

The first thing that struck me about parsnips was the perfume–very strong yet pleasant. I wondered about the flavor, but that turned out to be mild and a little sweet, a bit like celery root. Parsnips can be served raw–sliced or grated in a salad, like carrots. They also can be roasted, boiled, sautéed, braised, you name it. They can be served whole, sliced or puréed. If you can do it to a carrot, you can do it to a parsnip.

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Celery root. Very popular grated, as a salad, with a creamy dressing. Typical school cafeteria fare.

However, they get bigger than carrots, and when they do, there’s sometimes a tough core that’s better to cut out. You can peel them but if you have a good vegetable brush, a scrubbing will do. Either douse them with lemon juice or cook them right away or they will oxidize and turn a bit brown, as potatoes and apples do, and similarly it doesn’t affect how edible they are but makes them not as appetizing. They don’t turn brown as fast as, say, avocados, and I skipped the lemon juice as it took little time to cut up three parsnips (one large per person) and toss them in oil.

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You can see the woody core, which I removed.

I was serving them with a white bean gratin, so I wanted to cook both dishes in the oven. I cut them into sticks like fries, tossed them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread them on a baking sheet on the upper rack in a 400 F/200 C oven. I considered adding garlic and parsley, but we already were having dishes with those. When they started to brown, I put in the dish of beans on the lower rack. I took the parsnips out to turn them but found I didn’t need to–they browned all around. It took about 15 minutes, but I waited longer, distracted by the sautéed spinach, and some got overdone.

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They brown slowly then quickly. Watch them!

In retrospect, although the parsnips were yummy and we all took second helpings, they would have looked better with something other than white bean gratin (a big can of white beans puréed with some of their liquid and one clove of garlic, spread out in a small glass baking dish and topped with grated parmesan). Two white foods in one meal! We also had spinach (green) and some hard-to-get mushrooms that I scored at the market. (I don’t know whether it’s because of the weather or overpicking, but wild mushrooms have been scarce at the market, and the price for lactaires is now €20 a kilogram, vs. €13 two years ago.)

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OMG these are good.

Although they look like and have a similar texture to potatoes as oven fries, parsnips are very low in carbohydrates.  I’m not looking to eliminate any food group (except refined sugar), but I do find that on my plate potatoes tend to turn into a butter and salt delivery system that I try to rein in.

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Lactaires delicieux, aka rousillous.

In this case, the parsnips were lightly coated with olive oil, to help brown them and keep them from sticking. Butter no parsnips! Actually the phrase is fine words butter no parsnips–butter is the verb, like butter up somebody, and it means the same thing here, that flattery gets you nowhere.

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Another neglected vegetable, often substituted for potatoes: sunchokes, aka Jerusalem artichokes, aka topinambours, which is so delightful to say. Very sweet.

If you serve parsnips, the compliments won’t be empty.

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41 thoughts on “Butter No Parsnips

  1. I haven’t had parsnips since… when? Teens maybe. I will have to try them again. I do know a thing about sun chokes… Never set them loose in the garden! They will take over the world! Or, at the very least your garden. 😉

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    1. Plus sunchokes can have an unfortunate effect on some people’s digestive system. Ask me how I know! (was served them in an upscale restaurant — spent some time that night researching their digestibility-flatulence ratio — handle with care!)

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  2. I’ve had parsnips plenty! My mom roasts them along with carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and my dad puts all of those things, plus turnips, rutabagas, and cabbage into the ginormous pot of turkey soup he makes on the day after Thanksgiving every year.

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      1. Roasting them is so easy. I do the same thing for parties with a porchetta in the pan. It’s about as easy as a main course can get.

        We all used to dread the soup. My mom would say, “Don’t say anything because he works hard on this.” Then one year he said, “I’m going to make the soup concentrated so it takes up less space in the freezer. We can water it down later.” And we tried the “concentrate” and were shocked that for the first time it had flavor

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  3. I love parsnips, especially roast parsnips but I am a Brit after all! We always have roast parsnips with our Christmas dinner. I have a close friend who married a French man, many years ago and when we drove to see her, we always took parsnips. They weren’t available in France in those days. I’m a fan of spicy or curried parsnip soup, too.

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    1. Curried! That sounds great!
      I think parsnips fell out of favor for a while because they were associated with what was available during the war. Parsnips are native to France, so they should have been available, but possibly not so popular.

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  4. Love parsnips, their sweet flavour always reminds me of bananas. I mainly roast them, usually cut into large chunks, and sometimes parboiled. Sometimes I add a little honey. Jane Grigson’s recipe for curried parsnip soup is also outstanding and makes small amounts of parsnip go a long way!

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  5. I found that all root vegetables-celery, parsnips, or parsley- are great in soups. I especially like them in a cream of veggies served with a crusty slice of garlic bread. Thank you for other great ideas to incorporate more of these unassuming souces of goodness!

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  6. Ha! My daughter’s high-school French teacher one year — a funny little man, originally from one of the French colonial islands, Haiti, I believe — used to head off student excuses with this phrase — “That don’t butter no parsnips with me”! (Yes, his grammar usually was of a much higher standard, both in English and French 😉
    And, in fact, I ate a delicious parsnip soup just a few weeks ago, staying with my friend in Edinburgh — she’s a Scot, but married to a Frenchman, has been living in France for decades now. I asked her if parsnips were typical fare in Scotland, and she said they were on the menu through her French experience. . .
    They’re generally in the grocery stores here during the winter and occasionally found on restaurant menus, sometimes done up as fries the way you enjoyed them. Thanks for the reminder — I’m thinking a good thick bowl of puréed parsnip soup would be delicious with the bread I have in the oven right now. . .

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  7. Just yesterday I watched Ina Garten make roasted parsnips and carrots. I thought they looked good so if I can find them at the market I will try roasting. I usually sauté them with a little butter and a couple tablespoons water with a lid to steam, just when they are tender I remove the lid to let the rest of the water evaporate.

    https://barefootcontessa.com/recipes/orange-braised-carrots-parsnips

    Awhile back I tried to make a celery roots soup, but it was not very good. I may have missed something, maybe the recipe was not all that. It was pretty expensive too just for a mediocre soup. I will be on the lookout if you make something I will give it one more try.

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  8. Our favourites when growing up were mashed carrots and parsnips with butter salt and pepper. Absolutely delicious but you must have them well mashed but not puréed. Very yummy! My mother would also cook them with Sunday roast – they were always crisp and buttery soft inside. Cheers, Doreen

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  9. Oh I LOVE parsnips! We grew up eating them mashed, in soups, but never roasted. We also had turnips and rutabaga routinely in the winter, which I love, too.

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  10. Parsnips are definitely having a revival in France. My local organic market garden grows them now, but when we first arrived 10 years ago you would rarely see them. I didn’t grow up with parsnips but adopted them when we moved to the UK. Still not a fan of curried parsnip soup though — all my British colleagues were madly fond of it.

    The lack of wild mushrooms is due to the weather. I think this is the worst year for mushrooms since we’ve lived here.

    I can verify the disasterous effect Jerusalem artichokes have. Delicious roasted, but always regretted the next day.

    Parsley root is something I haven’t seen for a *very* long time. It is one of the traditional ingredients in Jewish style chicken soup.

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    1. I must admit that when I first moved here, I was so enchanted by shopping at the market, that I contented myself with familiar items. But now I want to try everything. Curried anything sounds good to me, so I’m going to try the curried parsnip soup.

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  11. I didnot have a PARSNIP until a few years ago!They are DELICIOUS………..and so easy to cook!I need to go back up and see how you FRIED THEM in CIRCLES??XX

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  12. I only recently discovered parsnips. My family mostly only ever cooked the (in my opinion) far less flavourful turnips. But the new focus on roots gives all of these old-fashioned veggies new life. The French go crazy for topinambour, which as you point out is fun to say — wonder if they’re worth the bother to prepare?

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