How to Pick, Prep, and Cook with Parsnips

Nutty and slightly sweet tasting, these root veggies are at their best when the weather is chilly. Here's what to do with them while they're in season (recipes included!).
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Nutty and slightly sweet tasting, these root veggies are at their best when the weather is chilly. Here's what to do with them while they're in season (recipes included!).
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Except for their ivory color and generally wider girth, parsnips look a lot like carrots. Nutty and slightly sweet tasting, these root veggies are at their best when the weather turns chilly. “The cool temperatures concentrate the sugars in their cells, making them sweeter,” explains Andy Griffin, owner of Mariquita Farm in Watsonville, Calif.

Pick
Check that parsnips are free of cracks, and avoid any that bend or show soft spots. A fresh parsnip will have an herbal fragrance, Griffin says. “Despite what you might hear, smaller parsnips are not necessarily sweeter and better tasting than larger ones,” he adds. Parsnips can last up to three weeks when kept in cool conditions with high humidity, such as a plastic bag placed in the refrigerator crisper.

Prep
Raw parsnips tend to have a tough, woody texture; cooking makes these veggies more palatable. “Roasting really enhances their sweetness,” says Griffin. Peeled and sliced parsnips quickly turn dark when exposed to air, so cook them right away, or store them in water with a touch of lemon juice. To avoid mushy parsnips, Griffin advises adding them to soups and stews toward the end of cooking.

Try This!
• Shred parsnips, and add to baking batters as you would carrots or zucchini.

• Boil or steam parsnips, and mash with an equal amount of potatoes, plus milk, butter, grainy mustard, smoked paprika, and fresh sage for a savory take on mashed potatoes.

• Combine whole, peeled parsnips with pearled onions and rosemary on a roasting pan; toss with olive oil and sea salt, and roast at 400°F until tender.

• Toss grated parsnips and carrots with flour, eggs, chopped chives, and salt and pepper to taste; drop batter by the scoopful into an oiled skillet to make parsnip patties.

• Simmer sliced leeks, parsnips, and potatoes in vegetable stock; purée, and garnish soup with crumbled feta and toasted pecans.

• Pair them with carrots: we love steamed, glazed parsnip and carrot sticks and roasted carrots and parsnips.

What about you? What's your favorite way to use parsnips?