The parsnip, or panais (paneh) in French, is a generally overlooked winter vegetable – for good cause. It’s usually quite lousy. I’ll never forget the first dinner at my future in-law’s home. My mother-in-law is quite a wonderful cook, with a few notable duds in her repertoire. I didn’t know that at the time. When I, as the guest of honor, was presented with every dish first, I did as my mother had taught me and took a helping of each. One large platter had whole parsnips. I knew what they were, but I’m not sure if I’d ever had them before. They were large. They were plentiful. They were hard. I took two. The platter then did the rounds of the table – and only one other person touched the parsnips.
While I was making happy-chat with my prospective in-laws, I ate everything on the plate, except the parsnips. I had tried, but they were HARD. I mean H-A-R-D. I think they may have been shown steam at some point, but that’s about it. I couldn’t cut them because I couldn’t get the tines of my fork to pierce their wooden flesh. I was terrified that they’d go skittering across the linen draped table if I tried to force the issue. Finally, my beloved took pity on me and told me not to try to eat them. He explained that no one in the family liked them except his brother-in-law, who must be part beaver in order to have eaten those parsnips. It took me years to face a parsnip again.
In the gréco-Roman era, parsnips weren’t even given their own name because they were confused with carrots. The English believed that eating old parsnips would make you insane. In the Middle-Ages, they were considered to be a vegetable reserved for the peasants. Today, they’re usually written off as démodé and worthless. There are, however, yummy ways to cook this humble winter vegetable. Try parsnips in a purée, or roasted with cinnamon and coriander. They can be creamed with apples, French-fried, or even stuffed in ravioli. You can even pair them with white chocolate in a cake. Here are 10 recipes to get you started. But don’t, don’t ever, just serve them semi-raw to unsuspecting guests.