Parsnips are biennials, typically living for two years, although tend to be grown as annuals and harvested in the first year. Parsnips were originally used as a sweetener in Europe before beet and cane sugar became available, and served as the main cultivated starch of the Thirteen British Colonies until it was replaced by the potato. Parsnips are rich in vitamins and minerals including several B-group vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and phosphorus, and are a particularly good source of potassium. Most of the vitamins are found close to the skin so finely peeling or cooking whole is suggested to avoid decreasing nutritional value.
Buying & Storing
Parsnips are typically sold with their greens removed. This prevents consumers from coming into contact with the phototoxic sap, and allows the parsnips to be stored longer. Large brown or soft spots should be avoided, though they can easily be cut around making the rest of the parsnip usable.
To store parsnips, trim off the tops, if not yet trimmed, and refrigerate unwashed in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. For longer-term storage, parsnips can be buried in moist sand and kept in a cool, but not freezing, location. Parsnips can also be frozen.
To freeze parsnips, blanch 1-inch chunks in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and then immediately run under cold water or put in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain the chunks of parsnip, let them dry, spread them out on a baking sheet, and put in the freezer. Once the chunks have frozen, pack them into an air-tight container or freezer bag. This prevents the parsnip from freezing in a solid chunk and allows the parsnip to be easily thawed.
Preparation – although it is rare to find parsnips with any part of their greens still attached, if you do, put on gloves and remove the shoots/stems and leaves before continuing with preparation. Once you just have the root, remove the gloves and scrub the parsnips with a stiff vegetable brush under cool running water to remove any remaining soil and tiny roots. Once clean, use parsnips unpeeled or peeled, and sliced, chopped, cubed, or whole. If you peel parsnips, be careful not to remove too much of the skin as you will remove most of the vitamins and minerals.
Raw – grate or shave parsnip on a box grater and add to salads or slaws. Slice or matchstick (cut into long sticks similar to carrots) the parsnip and use it as a dipping vegetable with hummus or ranch.
Roast/Grill – cut into halves, quarters, or thick slices lengthwise, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and roast at 450°F for 20-30 minutes or grill over medium heat until caramelized and tender. Turn regularly when grilling or roasting. Roast cut parsnips with other root vegetables.
Saute – slice and place in a skillet with butter, salt, and pepper. Cook the parsnips until the edges start to caramelize on the edges and the pieces are tender.
Steam – cut into 1-inch chunks, place in a pot with a steamer basket, and steam for 5-7 minutes. Once tender, pull them out and enjoy as a side dish with butter, salt and pepper. If steaming for a parsnip puree, steam for a little longer so that they are very tender before blending.
Boil – cut into 1-inch chunks and place in a pot of boiling water with salt for 8-10 minutes until tender. Once cooked, mash with butter, salt, pepper and cream.
Puree – steam parsnips and puree with onion and curry for a parsnip soup, or add plain puree to soups as a thickener instead of cornstarch.