Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t eat locally grown fresh vegetables. Of course there are the familiar and widely available fall vegetables that can be stored for many months under proper conditions, such as potatoes, carrots, onions, squash, and beets. And then there are the less common ones: kale, Brussels sprouts, fennel, leeks, celeriac, rutabaga and—the new favorite at our house—parsnips. They will keep for a long time in your refrigerator, even if they are not waxed. They are almost inedible raw, but nutty and sweet when cooked. Like Brussels sprouts, parsnips are more wonderful to eat after they have been through some frosty weather. Some adversity builds character in parsnips—just as it does in people.
In medieval Europe and even during the time of the Greeks and Romans, parsnips were popular and ubiquitous. Because they are both sweet and starchy, they were widely used in side dishes, soups, stews, and even desserts. But once the potato showed up from the New World, the parsnip slowly faded into obscurity. Luckily, parsnips have not totally gone the way of the dodo bird. Most large grocery produce departments have at least a few bags tucked away in the “stodgy, homely vegetables” section along with the turnips and rutabagas.
If you are a farmers’ market or CSA customer, you may have encountered parsnips. If not, lobby your grower to consider planting them next year. They are as easy to grow as carrots and a great late fall or early winter crop. If you are a gardener, consider planting a row of parsnips. This year, we planted the Hollow Crown variety from Livingstone Seed Company. My husband got the seeds at the Fleet Farm store in Rochester, which has an extensive selection of vegetable and flower seeds.
Here are two recipes using parsnips. For more parsnip recipes and facts, see The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook by Sally and Martin Stone. For a Minnesotan wishing to make the most of winter, this book is extremely useful.
1⁄2 cup diced bacon or salt pork
Cook bacon or salt pork until crisp. Remove from pan. Sauté onions in remaining fat until tender. Add vegetables, seasonings, and water. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add milk. Add butter and flour mixture to simmering soup in bits, whisking until smooth and thickened. Serve garnished with herbs and pork pieces.
These are rich and would be excellent served with a simple roast chicken or pork and something tangy, like pickled beets or spiced apples or pears.
6 medium parsnips
Peel and quarter parsnips. Cut out woody core if necessary. Cook in boiling salted water until just barely tender (test with a fork). Drain thoroughly. Mix parsnips with all other ingredients and place in a heavy baking dish in one layer. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Stir once or twice during baking to evenly distribute glaze.
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