Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Feature Item—Parsnips

It may look similar to a carrot and comes from the carrot family, but parsnips are quite a different vegetable.  Because they have no beta-carotene, parsnips are white.  However, they are still quite healthful, boasting impressive levels of dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, vitamin C and calcium.  It is argued that they are actually sweeter than carrots, but they are definitely more fibrous and can be more bitter.  Before the popularization of potatoes they were a staple starch, and during the Middle Ages they were more favored than carrots.  Parsnips were introduced to America by the early European settlers, and while never quite as popular in the US as in other countries, they are becoming a favorite of farm devotees today.

Parsnips are best harvested in late fall, after the first frost, at which time the starches are turned into sugars, making the vegetable taste “sweet”.  Indeed, the caramelized nutty sweetness of roasted parsnips is irresistible.  Young parsnips don’t even need peeling and are considered sweet enough to eat raw, especially grated into salads or used as a crudité vegetable.  However, if parsnips have been allowed to grow too big or remain too long in storage, they tend to get woodier and bitter.  Thus, it is recommended that larger parsnips be peeled and that the “woody” core in the middle be cut out before preparing.  Typically, you can tell once you make your first cut if the core seems overly tough and in need of being extracted.  If you are unsure, taste the raw parsnip before continuing with your cooking preparation.

In the culinary world parsnips are often linked to carrots and potatoes.  Cooking sources often recommend substituting parsnips for carrots or potatoes in soup, stews, roasts, mashes, and purees.  Parsnips are also quite similar to turnips in texture and are easily interchangeable with turnips in recipes.  However, it is important to keep in mind that they can have more of a bitter edge than carrots, potatoes or turnips, especially if older or if a woody core is not removed.  Thus it helps to consider other elements in a dish before deciding to add parsnips.  Recently I made a beef and stout stew with added parsnips and found that the bitterness in the beer accentuated the bitterness in the parsnips in a distasteful way.  However, I did use large supermarket parsnips and did not core them first.

As mentioned above, parsnips can be eaten raw.  However, they are most often cooked in this country and lend themselves to almost any cooking method.  Boiling or steaming is a popular technique, especially for making mashes or purees.  Parsnips mash especially well with potatoes, although they are good just as a mash on their own.

Parsnips are also tasty pureed in soups.  Parsnip and apple is a popular combination for pureed soup.  Potatoes, leeks, sweet potatoes, and squash would also combine well with parsnips in this method.

Because of their natural sweetness, parsnips are particularly good in preparations that introduce a complementary sweet note such as apples, apple cider, orange juice, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc.

Parsnips are wonderful roasted, either on their own or with other root vegetables.  As mentioned above, roasted parsnips develop a great caramelized sweetness without adding anything other than a bit of oil, salt and pepper (see below for a nice roasted root vegetable recipe).

I understand that fried and “oven fried” parsnips are also quite good, although I have personally never tried them.  The November 2010 issue of Food and Wine Magazine includes a unique recipe for “parsnip bacon” which is thin peelings of parsnip coated in oil, seasoned with a smoked salt, and baked until crisp (click here for recipe).  It sounds delicious doesn’t it!

Surprisingly, parsnips actually taste great in baked goods!  They are a fun substitute or addition to sweet breads, muffins, or cakes that call for carrots.  See below for an interesting recipe for Apple Parsnip Quick Bread.

So even if you think you hate parsnips, try some new ways of making them, or be mindful of cutting out bitter cores and/or avoiding other bitter flavors in the dish.  Who knows, parsnips might just become a favorite in your house!

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Roasted Pork Tenderloin & Root Vegetables with Fennel Spice Salt        Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

– Fennel Spice Salt

– 3 tablespoons fennel seeds

– 2 1/4 teaspoons coriander seeds

– 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

– 1/4 heaping teaspoon white pepper

– Vegetables

– 1 ½ cups peeled and diced parsnips

–2 large potatoes, diced

-1 ½ cups peeled and diced carrot

– 1/2 large or 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2″ dice

– 3 tablespoons olive oil

METHOD:

1. Place fennel and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned and toasted, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

2. Place seeds in a spice or clean coffee grinder and add salt and white pepper.  Grind to a fine powder.  Transfer to an airtight container (Spice mix will keep for a few months).

3. Preheat oven to 400. Spray or brush a shallow roasting pan with oil.

4. Place parsnips, carrots, and potatoes in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons spice mixture and 2 tablespoons olive oil until evenly coated.  Pour onto baking sheet and spread evenly.  Bake for 20 minutes.

5.  Meanwhile sprinkle butternut squash generously with spice mix and a bit of oil.  Prepare pork by cutting off visible fat and silver skin.  Rub pork with remaining tablespoon of olive oil, then rub generously with spice mix.

6.  Remove vegetables from oven.  Stir in butternut squash and sprinkle with more fennel salt.  Mix well. Place meat on top of vegetables.  Return to oven and bake another 20 minutes.  Remove pork to a plate and stir vegetables.  Return pork to pan (opposite side up this time).  Continue to bake until meat registers 150-155 degrees.  Remove meat from pan and cover loosely for 10 minutes (the meat temperature will continue to rise as it sits).  If vegetables are not tender and caramelized, return them to the oven while the meat rests.  Slice meat and serve with roasted vegetables.

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This quick bread is not too sweet and is healthier than most quick bread recipes as it is reduced-fat, contains no butter, and includes whole grain flour.

Apple Parsnip Quick Bread                                                            makes 1 loaf

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 cups white whole-wheat flour (see note below)

– 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda

– 1 teaspoon apple pie or pumpkin spice

– ½  teaspoon salt

– ½  cup plain low fat yogurt

– 1/3 cup vegetable oil

– ¼  cup unsweetened applesauce

– 1/3  cup honey

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 2 eggs, lightly beaten

– 1 cup peeled and grated parsnips

– 1 peeled, cored and grated apple

– ½  cup raisins

– ½  cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 325.  Spray a 9 X 5 inch loaf pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a small bowl whisk yogurt, vegetable oil, applesauce, honey, vanilla extract, parsnips, and apple until well combined.  Add eggs and whisk just until incorporated.  Stir egg mixture into flour mixture until just combined.  Fold in raisins and nuts.

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and smooth top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.  Because of the honey in the recipe, the loaf tends to brown quickly.  Do not be fooled, it will need at least 45 minutes and typically more to bake through.  Also, if top gets too brown, gently lay a piece of foil on top to prevent further browning.

 NOTES:

King Arthur Flour’s White Whole Wheat Flour is sold in supermarkets.  It is a whole grain flour ground from a variety of wheat that yields a lighter baking product than regular whole-wheat flour, although both kinds are nutritionally similar.  If you opt to use regular whole-wheat flour, use half whole wheat and half regular flour.

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I love stuffed cabbage but often don’t have the time or the energy to prepare it.  This casserole is a quick, easy and delicious substitute for the real thing.  This version is adapted from a recipe featured in the Hartford Courant.

Unstuffed Cabbage                                                                                                Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 pound ground turkey or lean ground beef

– 2 eggs

– 1 cup cooked brown rice

– 1 tablespoon sugar

– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

– 1/8 teaspoon allspice

– 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

– 3/4 teaspoon salt

– 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

– 1 small onion, chopped

– 2 teaspoons canola oil

– 2 small cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce

– 1 cup water

– 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

– 3 tablespoons brown sugar

– 3/4 cup raisins

– 1 small cabbage

– 1 apple, shredded

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 375℉.  Mix meat with eggs, rice, sugar, spices and salt and pepper.  Saute chopped onion in canola oil until golden.  Add tomato sauce, water, cider vinegar, brown sugar and raisins.  Heat mixture until well mixed and sugar is dissolved.  Taste tomato sauce, it should be sweet and sour.  Add more sugar if desired.

2. Shred cabbage into thin strips and mix well with apple.  Place half of cabbage mixture evenly across bottom of a large rectangular glass Pyrex dish.  Pat meat mixture into an even layer over cabbage.  Cover with rest of cabbage and then tomato sauce mixture.   Cover and bake for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through (temperature should read 165 degrees or higher).

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