Now there’s an attitude I’d like to cultivate. It would have to be some combination of innate, upbeat sweetness with a dash of earthy audacity. What could be more appropriate for this root vegetable that actually becomes sweeter faced with the adversity of a frost that assists in the conversion of starches to sugars.
Though the Greeks neglected to mention parsnips in their botanical endeavors, the Roman Emperor Tiberius was more than willing to accept them from his German vassals in payment of their taxes. In those days, parsnips were used primarily as a dessert baked in honey or fruited cakes. The toothsome root found its way to the savory side of the table sometime in the Middle Ages when, with salted cod, it became a traditional Lenten meal. As an all-purpose sweetener, it held sway across Europe until about the mid 18th C when sugar beet refinement was introduced. Tales are told of a parsnip wine of such elegance that it was reminiscent of Maderia. One has to wonder seriously how many glasses had to be consumed before the association of that wine occurred to the drinker.
Modern day Italy does not seem to have given the parsnip a role on its famed tables with the single exception that it is a primary feed for those pigs destined to become Parma ham. Otherwise, it is strange that Italian cuisine seems to have ignored this rich vegetable that is close kin to the carrot, chervil, parsley, fennel, celery and celeriac. Perhaps the parsnip will experience a renaissance in that part of the world. Here at home it has become significantly more popular in the last few decades. It can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, stewed, braised and baked just to list a small handful of methods.
In previous columns we have provided recipes for Parsnip Spiced Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting, Caramelized Parsnips and Creamy Parsnip and Leek Soup, all of which are available on our web site. Today we’re offering Baked Parsnip Rosemary Fries. It is a simple, easy and satisfying dish.
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