Parsnips: the perfect addition to a tasty autumn root vegetable medley

Another post from the nutrition students at Acadia University.  Many thanks to Jennifer MacQuarrie, Jessica Lockhart , JF Lefort, Lolo Obelegeng, and Megan Mulloy. It felt particularly timely to post this today, as the Globe & Mail ran an article in today’s paper about this under-appreciated vegetable.  I am a big fan of the parsnip, and in fact made delicious parsnip latkes for dinner last night.

The parsnip is a creamy, white colored root vegetable that is closely related to plants such as root parsley and the carrot and has the appearance of a pseudo-carrot. Its flavor is similar to that of a carrot, accented with its own distinct sweetness. Parsnips not only pack a punch to the palate, but also possess an impressive array of nutrients such as copper, potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Approximately half of the nutrients it contains are water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C, Pantothenic acid, Folate, Riboflavin, Niacin. and Thiamin. While its caloric value is low, like other vegetables akin to the parsnip (root vegetables), it has more energy than most other vegetables. The featured commodity is also low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. Concerning health and the body, because of their fiber content, parsnips are eaten to improve bowel action and because of their low fat and energy levels, they are beneficial for the liver.

Parsnips are a hearty group of vegetables and can be grown in a diverse range of potential growing areas; however, cooler moist conditions are most preferable. The best time to plant is late spring when the soil is warm. Parsnips require long growing seasons (nearly 120 days) for the plant to reach maturity; however, it is best to harvest before this time or else they can become very fibrous and woody. A technique commonly utilized to ensure the best product is to prolong harvesting until after a frost. The frost tends to force some of the starchy carbohydrate to be converted into sugars, therefore creating a sweeter taste.

The parsnip originated in the Mediterranean and has been cultivated since ancient times. Peak harvesting begins in late fall and continues through the winter. After harvesting, root vegetables are stored in a cool and humid place. If the parsnips are harvested early in the fall before the initiation of frost, they can be stored for about two weeks at a temperature just above freezing. The less-than-appreciated root vegetable is so versatile that it can be stored at approximately zero degrees Celsius with very high humidity for four to six months after harvesting, and still be edible. From storage they are then shipped by truck to the market to be sold.

In terms of produce selection, parsnips may range in color from beige or pale yellow to off white. Chose those that are relatively small; they will be more tender whereas very large parsnips are likely to have tough, woody cores. The root should be firm and smooth and have a minimal amount of rootlets. Parsnips with moist spots should also be avoided. If leafy greens are attached, ensure that they look fresh before buying. It is wise to store them in a cool, humid root cellar or even in a perforated bag and placed in a refrigerator.

Parsnips have the ability to increase satiety and are very versatile, allowing for several different methods of preparation. This root vegetable often pairs the best with potatoes and carrots. They can be commonly found in a potato purée and even in cakes. Parsnips are washed as needed to maintain whiteness and to ensure to scrub all the soil is scrubbed off the root before preparing. Remove all blemishes and moist spots on the vegetable, but do not peel. The outer layer has a high nutrient density, thus peeling the parsnip will result in a loss of nutrients.

Many people enjoy boiling and mashing parsnips, like potatoes, and adding some butter or margarine and chives for tasty decadence. However, boiling can reduce the amounts of very susceptible water-soluble vitamins and cause some of them to filter out into the surrounding water which is often discarded after boiling. Therefore, it is best to use a small quantity of water for cooking, and only add the vegetables when the water is boiling so to maintain the most nutritional value. In addition to nutrition, texture is also a key factor when determining how edible a food is. When cooking parsnips, they naturally soften allowing for easier and more efficient chewing, digestion of plant fibers, and the ability to absorb nutrients. If the parsnips are cooked too long they become mushy and less edible, in addition to decreasing nutritional value.

The parsnip is a grossly overlooked vegetable, and is often overshadowed by its more favored cousin the carrot. However, there are ways of preparing this underrated vegetable in tasty innovative ways to add some diversity as well as a substantial boost of vital nutrients to the diet.

Check out this recipe!

Honey-Glazed Roasted Carrots and Parsnips

2 pounds carrots (1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter), peeled, halved lengthwise

2 pounds parsnips (1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter), peeled, halved lengthwise

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Position 1 rack in center and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil. Divide carrots and parsnips between prepared sheets. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, then drizzle 3 tablespoons oil over vegetables on each sheet; toss to coat.

Roast vegetables 10 minutes; stir. Roast vegetables 10 minutes longer, stir, and reverse sheets. Continue roasting until vegetables are tender and slightly charred, about 15 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Tent with foil and let stand at room temperature. Warm uncovered in 350°F oven 10 minutes.)

Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in honey and vinegar. Drizzle honey glaze over vegetables and serve.


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