City Sustainability - Apr 20, 2011

01:00 April 20, 2011
By: David Vicari
[Courtesy of Getty Images]

The humble parsnip is one of my favorite root vegetables, but it always generates a mixed response among both gardeners and people who like to eat. The white root vegetable, and close relative of the carrot, is most commonly associated with British food, which is probably why it isn't a vegetable that appears in New Orleans cuisine, also may add to its lackluster reputation.

Parsnips require a full four months of growing time before they reach maturity, so many gardeners don't bother growing them simply because the vegetable monopolizes garden space. To grow parsnips, you have to love them, and have the space to grow them. Luckily, I have both an affinity for the vegetable and room for them. Parsnips fit into my lazy gardener's mentality anyway: once sown in a raised bed with fertile, well-draining soil, they require little maintenance and can be harvested at several points during the growing season as they mature.

In my garden, parsnips occupy a 1 ft. by 4 ft. block instead of a row. Once the soil is cultivated and aerated, I add a bit of compost, then sow the seeds thickly, thinning every few weeks once the thinnings reach 1 in. in diameter—when they are big enough to eat.

Despite the parsnip's starchy and pallid appearance, the vegetable is surprisingly sweet. When roasted, the natural sugars in the vegetable carmelize to create a nutty and delectable flavor. Unfortunately, parsnips grown in New Orleans are ready now, after growing cozily underground all winter and early spring, and need to be harvested before the heat makes them bitter and starchy. This is the time of year when I retire my oven for the next few months and stay away from sweating over the stove and heating up the house while cooking a roast for hours.

Parsnips can't be grown again in our climate until the weather cools off in October. So, test out some of the delicious recipes below and decide if parsnips are worth the time and space they require to grow, then make plans to include them in the fall garden. A good source for parsnip seeds is Botanical Interests (

Parsnip and Carrot Mash
This is a classic accompaniment to a many British Sunday dinners. I use this in place of mashed potatoes. The parsnips quick more quickly than the dense carrots, so you can either add the parsnips a little after the carrots. But, if you're like me and love the texture of the creamy mashed parsnips with slightly firmer mashed carrots, (or for simplicity) just add both vegetables at the same time. So easy and delicious.

  • 2-3 good sized parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • Same number of carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter
  • Salt and Pepper

Add carrots and parsnips to boiling salted water. Boil 15 minutes or until parsnips are very tender when pierced with a fork. Drain, then return to pot. Mash vegetables together with a large piece of butter, (or chicken stock if you're feeling health conscious). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Sweet Potato - Parsnip Pancake
I eat these for breakfast with fried or poached eggs. But they can also be served latke-style with sour cream and chives.

  • 1 cups raw sweet potato - grated
  • 1 cups raw parsnip - grated
  • 1/4 cup organic all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaped tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil - for sauteeing

Combine first six ingredients together in mixing bowl. Preheat large skillet on medium heat, then add olive oil and place 1/2 cup of mixture in pan. Flatten gently to ¼" thickness with a spatula. Cook (about 4 minutes per side), adding more oil to the pan between flipping sides to ensure the pancakes don't stick. Serve warm and crispy.

Parsnip Chips
These are worth turning on the oven for. Don't worry, they only cook for about ten minutes.

  • 2 large parsnips, scrubbed and cut in coin-sized slices, as thin as possible (a mandolin comes in handy here)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Tony Chachere's to taste

Place cut parsnips on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle oil over the top of the parsnips, sprinkle as much seasoning as desired and toss to coat thoroughly. Spread parsnips in a single layer and cook for ten minutes, then carefully flip each chip over with a spatula. Cook for another five minutes, until crisp and toasty. Indulge immediately.

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