The cold hard frost of these late November mornings do a wonderful thing to our winter root vegetables, especially the parsnip.
The frost turns the parsnip’s starch into sugars making them delectably sweet.
They were actually used as sweeteners before the arrival in Europe of sugar-cane.
It is a perfect work of nature that the parsnipis at its best during colder months where its pale flesh and earthy honey-like flavour work perfectly with hearty roast meats like beef, lamb, game birds, venison and pork.
This time of year calls for these more robust,comforting flavours and textures.
Parsnips perhaps reach their culinary pinnacle when simply roasted until turning crisp, almost burnt at the edges, maybe with a little glaze of honey or maple syrup and seasoned well.
The parsnip is a versatile vegetable however, and its earthy, honey, soothing sweetness is much appreciated in soups, casseroles, mashed and even as wafer-thin crisps.
Some people have even been known to make parsnips into cakes.
In Currabinny we never really grew parsnips ourselves, although an elderly neighbour called Violet would have plenty in her patch, she would have someone drive her and her boxes of earth-laden vegetables around the neighbourhood, selling the fruits of her labour.
In winter, we would always get from her, a big bunch of muddy, whiskery, knobbly parsnips.
Their taste always seemed far superior to the ones we would get from the supermarket.
The recipes we have included here, hopefully show how resourceful you can be with parsnips, how versatile they are and complimentary to different textures and flavours.
The soup is our favourite and has an incredible soothing quality and the parsnip with chorizo is an ode to unfussy cooking with the bare minimum of good ingredients.
This soup is smooth, velvety and elegant. The sweetness from the parsnips marry well with the more intriguing aniseed notes of the fennel.
This is our favourite soup to make in the winter. We once made this in front of hundreds of transition year students with parsnips that had half frozen in the boot of someone’s car on a particularly cold night.
The demonstration was an ordeal of trying to cut through solid parsnips simultaneously attempting to keep a bunch of 16-year-olds interested.
The resulting soup was thankfully the sweetest and most soothing we had ever made and was happily guzzled up by all of them.
4 medium-sized parsnips, finely chopped
2 large fennel bulbs, finely chopped, stalks removed
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
1.5 litres of good vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Make sure the parsnips,fennel bulbs, celery and onion are chopped finely and roughly the same size dice (about half a centimetre).
Melt the butter in a large pot or casserole dish. Add the onion, parsnip, celery and fennel, season well.
Stir the contents in the butter until everything is coated.
Construct a ‘cartouche’ using a large piece of greaseproof paper folded from the middle several times and then measuring it roughly from the middle of the pan, cutting it to measure the radius of the pot you are using with a scissors.
When opened out this should make a circle which perfectly covers the inside of your pot, press this down on the contents, sealing them in to cook.
Alternatively you could use a butter wrapper, making sure it’s big enough to seal the pot so the moisture doesn’t escape. Put the lid on the pot and cook for around 10 minutes on a gentle heat. I like to check the contents at least once while they are cooking to give it a stir and make sure nothing is sticking.
In another pot heat up your vegetable stock until boiling. This will shorten the cooking time considerably.
When boiled, remove the cartouche and throw away and pour in your hot stock, stirring the contents to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Simmer on a medium heat for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are completely soft and tender.
Add the milk and parsley and blend until completely smooth and creamy. I usually just use a good hand blender.
Check the seasoning and Serve with a swirl of cream and some fennel herb sprinkled on top.
A satisfying combination of sweet parsnip and warm slightly spicy Dijon, perfect as an accompaniment to ham, pork, game and other wintry, hearty meats including lamb which works great with the earthy sweetness.
We like the subtlety of warmth and spice the cumin brings to the pan juices, transforming it into a perfect jus, without much fuss.
Personally we prefer parsley with this particular lamb dish as we feel the parsnip gives you all the sweetness you need but mint is a classic lamb pairing and will of course work wonderfully as well.
For the parsnips
800g parsnips, peeled and cut into small dice
1 tbsp of good quality French Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt & pepper
1 tsp of lemon juice
Drizzle of rapeseed oil
For the lamb
4 nice sized lamb steaks (around 180g each)
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tap of cumin
A small handful of parsley or mint, chopped
To make the mash: Cut the parsnips into small ¼ inch cubes.
Melt the butter and oil in a large pan on a medium heat.
Add the parsnip and stir to coat all of the pieces with butter.
Cook for eight to ten minutes until soft and sticking to the pan.
Reduce the heat to low and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. With a potato masher, crush the parsnip into a mash, adding a little more butter if needed. Stir the tablespoon of mustard through.
For the lamb steaks: season on both sides and leave to the side while you melt the butter and a little drizzle of olive oil on a medium high heat.
Add the steaks to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes each side so they are nice and brown on the outside but still a little pink on the inside. Remove and leave to the side.
Add a teaspoon of cumin to the pan and stir through the butter for a minute or two before adding the parsley or mint, season with black pepper and a little pinch of salt.
When you plate this dish up give each plate a healthy dollop of parsnip puree with a lamb steak and the pan juices drizzled all over, garnish with whatever herb you chose to use.
This is about as satisfyingly simple a supper as you could ask for.
Be careful with seasoning as the chorizo itself is quite salty and spicy enough as it is, a small pinch of salt is all you might need and a good crack of black pepper.
This is a sort of perfect midweek dinner when you haven’t a lot of patience or time and the fridge is rather bare.
5-6 small to medium parsnips, peeled
300g of good quality chorizo, skin removed if possible
2 medium onions
60ml of olive oil
A small pinch of sea salt
Cut the peeled parsnips into thin chips and do the same with the chorizo.
Peel and halve the onions and slice thinly.
Over a medium heat, add the oil in a non stick frying pan.
Add the onion and parsnips when the oil has become nice and hot and fry gently for around 10-15 minutes until the parsnips have started to lightly caramelise.
Add the chorizo and cook for a further 5 minutes, seasoning at the end with a little black pepper and a small pinch of salt.