Parsnips, Three Ways
By Charlie Burke

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If asked to name the first spring vegetable in New England, few would think of
parsnips. There is a catch, of course, because spring parsnips were planted
the previous summer. Able to withstand the severe winter temperatures of our
northern winters and harvested as soon as the soil thaws, these are the sweetest
and best tasting of all.

In the past they were part of any root cellar, and New England farmers still plant
fields specifically to over-winter. They are well worth the effort of seeking them;
because they are so full of flavor, preparation could not be simpler. I have roasted
them, as in the recipe below, tossed with only olive oil, sea salt and pepper and
have had guests ask what spices I had added because roasting had so intensified
their great flavor.

Steamed or boiled, parsnips make a great side for fish, meat or poultry, and their
flavor blends perfectly with carrots, so each of these three preparations could be
done with an equal mix of the two. If I am lucky enough to get local spring
parsnips, though, I don’t mix them.

These three preparations took less than an hour. Three pounds of medium sized
parsnips were peeled; one pound was roasted and the other two were boiled for
the soup and puree, with the flavored water being reserved for the soup.

Note that few other ingredients are needed; these flavor packed roots stand on
their own! I must admit, however, that when I tried a pinch of star anise in the
soup, the flavors combined to bring it to a new level. Ginger and Chinese five-
spice would be other likely compatible candidates.

Roasted Parsnips:

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into equal size pieces, 2 – 3 inches long (some
taper quite rapidly, in which case the thicker pieces can be split lengthwise or
quartered)
Olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 475. Toss parsnips in olive oil, using only enough to lightly coat
the pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in a single layer for 20 – 30
minutes, turning them at 10 – 15 minutes. They are done when lightly browned
and a knife can pierce them but meets some resistance.

Parsnip Puree:

1 pound parsnips peeled and prepared as above.
2 – 3 tablespoons butter
Sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

If using the puree for soup, cook parsnips in 4 cups of salted rapidly boiling water
for 10 – 12 minutes until tender but not soft (the point of a knife meets slight
resistance). If serving as a side dish, they are fine boiled as above, but steaming
maintains more of the flavor. Cooking time is approximately the same; test with
knife as above.

Puree parsnips in a food processor until smooth. If serving as a side dish, add
butter and seasoning; this can be made a day ahead and reheated in the
microwave.

Parsnip Soup:

Puree of 1 pound of parsnips, prepared as above, but without butter or seasoning
1 cup light cream or milk
4 cups reserved water from boiled parsnips
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Star anise, ground in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder (optional)

Put water and puree in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer; do not let it
boil. Whisk to blend or use an immersion blender. Mix in milk or cream and add a
small volume of water if you prefer a thinner consistency. Add salt and pepper to
taste. Serve with a pinch of powdered anise, if using.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to
Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with
his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill
Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
Parsnips, Three Ways
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