The Chefs' Take: Parsnips
A thick, taupe-hued version of the ubiquitous, snack-friendly carrot, the parsnip is an unsung root vegetable seldom eaten raw. Then winter arrives, and its nutty profile deservedly gets the spotlight in a barrage of hearty soups and braises. But, there are other clever ways to celebrate the parsnip’s complexity this season.
Five nights a week, chef/owner Nicolas Delaroque of Nico in San Francisco serves a five-course tasting menu. Inevitably, parsnips make a cameo this time of the year. “I enjoy their versatility. We can use them in so many types of cooking,” he explains. That’s why he embraces the vegetable’s floral notes and incorporates them into a dessert. One splurge-worthy scoop of brown butter ice cream is dressed with fried parsnip chips and wood sorrel. “Parsnips have a sweet disposition, and with the cozy, warm feel of maple and bourbon, it just makes sense on a cold day.”
Before mopping up a fragrant seafood curry at La Thai Uptown, in New Orleans, patrons might want to order chef/owner Diana Chauvin Gallé’s salad with julienned parsnips and carrots along with their go-to order of rice paper summer rolls. Inspired by her mother’s recipe for classic Thai papaya salad, it’s brightened with fish sauce and Bird’s eye chiles, along with garlic, lime, cilantro and green onions. “I added cashews and pumpkin seeds for crunch, and to enhance the earthiness of the parsnips,” says Gallé. “Yet it remains light, refreshing, and healthy.”
Parsnips also provide a leaner alternative to sushi at Gramercy Farmer & the Fish in New York. Chef/owner/farmer Michael Kaphan swaps sushi’s traditional log of starchy white rice for a mélange of riced root vegetables—parsnip, as well as Scarlet turnip—and tops it with wild salmon, Bigeye tuna sashimi and basil. Parsnips, he says, “have a great texture and gingery-apple flavor that works really well with most recipes. I feel that they are usually overlooked by most chefs who forget how wonderful they are fresh.” In Kaphan’s case, they come straight from his five-acre farm in Westchester County.
Alia Akkam is a freelance writer and former Food Network intern who covers the food, drink, travel and design realms.