It’s easy to overlook parsnips. Walking through the farmers market on an autumn day, you’re likely to notice the endless harvest of crisp red apples and sweet pears. Or maybe the speckled squashes and far-out mushrooms catch your eye. Look again. Parsnips resemble colorless carrots and their creamy sweetness will transform your autumn dishes.
Parsnips are in the same family as carrots, parsley root, celeriac and fennel and are a rich source of vitamin C, K and copper. This beige-colored root vegetable loves it when the weather turns cold. The first frost turns the parsnip’s starch to sugar, giving it its sweet and nutty flavor. While parsnips look like they may be tough, like carrots, they become buttery and soft when cooked.
What to look for
Choose small to medium sized parsnips that are pale beige in color and firm to the touch. Jumbo-sized parsnips are still good for cooking, but you’ll need to cut around the core, which becomes bitter and tough as the vegetable grows. Avoid any that are blemished, shriveled or limp.
Just be careful: parsnips look a lot like their cousin parsley root. But parsley will usually have long green leaves attached to the top while parsnips will not.
How to store
Treat parsnips like you would carrots. Store them unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge. They should stay crisp and tasty for up to 2 weeks.
How to use
Wash the parsnips and trim the ends. Depending on the recipe, peel them or simply give the outer skin a nice scrub. Peeling gives mashed parsnips a smoother texture, while roasted parsnips get a touch of crispiness with the skin left on.
Parsnips can be swapped in for carrots in any recipe. They’re gorgeous steamed, sautéed or roasted. If using in a soup or stew, add 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time to keep them from getting mushy. Try shaved and uncooked parsnips in salads or cut into sticks and serve with dips.
One of my favorite recipes is mashed parsnips, which are sweeter and creamier than mashed potatoes. It’s a snap to make:
Peel the parsnips and cook in simmering salted water, just like you would potatoes.
Once tender, drain and mash with warm milk and better and season to taste with salt and pepper.