This carrot-like root vegetable is quite versatile and unique.

By Kimberly Holland
July 29, 2019
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Parsnips, like Brussels sprouts, don’t get a lot of love or credit in the kitchen. That’s perhaps because they’re a bit misunderstood. After all, a parsnip looks like a white carrot, but the taste is quite different.

If you’re not familiar with this root vegetable, keep reading to find out why you should learn how to cook parsnips and get parsnip recipes that will make you a believer.

What is a parsnip?

A parsnip is a long, tapered root vegetable. It resembles a carrot in this way, and indeed they are part of the same family. But parsnips don’t taste too much like a carrot. They’re sweeter—think sweet potatoes—and they have a delicious naturally nutty or earthy flavor.

Parsnips are typically available in the fall and winter. Farmers often leave the root veg in the ground until after the first frost of the season. That’s because they believe the cold temps actually help the parsnip taste better and convert the veggie’s starches to sugar. Indeed, parsnips that are allowed to grow over winter are some of the sweetest parsnips you’ll ever get.

How do I buy parsnips?

When you’re shopping for a batch of parsnips, look for ones that grew straight and small (between five and 10 inches). Larger parsnips frequently have a woody core that is neither delicious nor easy to chew.

Beyond the size, look also for the health and vitality of the vegetable. Don’t buy parsnips that are limp or shriveled. Avoid any that have splits in them or large brown spots.

Parsnips will last a while in your fridge. Trim off the greens at the top, and wrap in a paper towel. Keep chilled in the fridge for up to three weeks.

How to prepare parsnips

A great deal of a parsnip’s flavor is just under the skin. Peeling it off, the way you might a carrot, will remove some of the most delicious flavor.

Instead, scrub each parsnip well with a vegetable brush under running water. Trim each end, about three-quarters of an inch into the vegetable.

Parsnips, like apples, will oxidize if you leave them in the air for too long. If you want to prepare parsnips before cooking them, just submerge them fully in a bowl of water mixed with a bit of lemon juice.

Easy ways to cook parsnips

Cooking parsnips is easy is if you think of them like carrots or potatoes. Clean the skin, chop, and prepare in the way that matches your intended outcome. Boiled parsnips mash up beautifully for a potato-inspired side. Parsnips also roast well and develop an intense caramelization. You can even sauté parsnips in a skillet right alongside any proteins you’re planning for dinner.

How to boil parsnips

Boiled parsnips are easy to smash for a mashed parsnip-potato mix. They can also be blended into soups or stews to add creaminess and body without flour or cornstarch.

  1. Scrub the outer layer from each parsnip with a vegetable brush. Trim ends of each parsnip. Cut into pieces slightly smaller than one-inch wide.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring one to two inches of water to a boil. Add parsnips. Cook parsnip pieces 10 minutes, or until they are fork-tender.
  3. Return to the saucepan, or pour into a large bowl. Use a fork or potato masher to coarsely mash the parsnip pieces. You can season with butter and cream, the way you would mashed potatoes.

Roasted parsnips

Like carrots and other root vegetables, parsnips turn richer and sweeter when they’re roasted in a high-temp oven. The natural sugars caramelize a bit, which lends roasted parsnips a just-right crispy crunch. Just as they are, they’re delicious, but you can also coat them in a sweet-and-spicy rub of paprika, brown sugar, and a pinch of chile powder.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Scrub the outer skin of each parsnip with a vegetable brush. Do not peel. Trim ends of each parsnip. Cut into pieces about once-inch wide.
  3. Toss parsnips pieces with a bit of olive or canola oil, salt, and pepper, or any spice mix you prefer. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Roast in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the largest pieces are fork-tender.

You can roast parsnips alone or with other root vegetables. Just be sure the pieces are of equal size so everything roasts evenly.

Sautéed parsnips

Root vegetables can be sautéed on the stovetop. They just take a bit more time than quick-cooking options, like bell peppers or summer squash. However, the extra time allows you to build delicious flavors and work them into a variety of foods, like vegetable hashes and or roasted vegetable medleys.

  1. Heat olive or canola oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Scrub the outer skin of each parsnip with a vegetable brush. Don’t remove the skin. Trim each end, and cut the parsnips into three-quarter-inch pieces. Alternatively, you can also cut parsnips into thin strips or matchsticks.
  3. Add parsnip pieces to skillet. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pieces are fork-tender. Season with salt and pepper.

For more flavor, you can add fresh herbs, like rosemary or thyme, to the pan when you add the parsnip pieces. Finish with melted butter for extra richness.

Quick Parsnip Recipes

Potato-Parsnip Mash With Parmesan
Boil equal amounts of peeled, cut-up parsnips and potatoes until tender. Drain and mash with butter, milk, and grated Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.

Spiced Roasted Parsnips and Carrots
Toss carrot sticks and parsnip sticks with olive oil, ground coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400° F, tossing once, until browned and tender.

Sautéed Parsnips With Rosemary
Cook sliced parsnips in butter with a fresh rosemary sprig and a splash of water in a large skillet until tender. Drizzle with honey and season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Parsnip and Apple Soup
Cook 1 chopped onion in olive oil in a large saucepan until soft. Add 1 pound peeled and cut-up parsnips, 2 peeled and cut-up apples, and enough chicken broth to cover. Simmer until the parsnips are very tender. Puree until smooth, adding water or broth as necessary to adjust the consistency.

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