Selecting Parsnip

Parsnips are root vegetables that are creamy yellow on the outside and white on the inside. They're available year-round in some markets but are easier to find in winter and early spring. The later parsnips are harvested, the sweeter they will taste, as the extra time and a frost help turn the starch into sugar.

Choose small- to medium-size parsnips; they'll be less fibrous and more tender. They shouldn't be "hairy" with rootlets or have obvious blemishes. The skin should be fairly smooth and firm, not shriveled. If the greens are still attached, they should look fresh. Before refrigerating, clip off any attached greens, so they won't drain moisture from the root. Parsnips stored in your crisper drawer in a loosely closed plastic bag will keep for a couple of weeks.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Parsnips
Scrub parsnips well before using. Trim both ends. As with carrots, cut 1/4- to 1/2-inch off the top (the greens end) to avoid pesticide residues. Scrape or peel a thin layer of skin before or after cooking. If you do it after, they'll be sweeter and full of more nutrients.

The most flavorful way to enjoy parsnips is to roast them in the oven. Cut into 3-inch-by-1/2-inch sticks, toss with a little olive oil, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, turning once, until tender, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on thickness. Your parsnips will come out fragrant and sweet.

Roasted parsnips are delicious and make a great side dish.
Roasted parsnips are delicious and make a great side dish.

Small, tender parsnips can be grated into salads, but most people prefer them cooked. To cook large parsnips, cut them in quarters lengthwise and remove the fibrous core; you can skip this step if the parsnips are small, about 5 to 7 inches in length and not too fat. Cut into evenly sized pieces and steam until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Some people like to substitute parsnips for potatoes. Serve them whole, cut up, or pureed like mashed potatoes. For savory flavor, basil, parsley, thyme, and tarragon complement parsnips. If you're looking to bring out their sweetness, try ginger and nutmeg.

Parsnips are great in soups and stews. Add them near the end of cooking time so they do not become mushy. Parsnips can also be used to make a flavorful stock, or pureed for a tasty soup thickener.

Note: Peeled or cut parsnips will turn brown quickly, so either cook them right away or hold in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice added, then drain and cook.

In the next section, we'll explain the many health benefits of parsnips.

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