Roots of Good Cooking
Published in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune on January 15, 2008Published in AroundMaine.com on January 15, 2008Published in the New Haven Register on January 16, 2008
Published in The Washington Times on January 16, 2008
Published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on January 16, 2008
the words "root vegetables for dinner" at my house and, until recently,
you would see my husband race to the telephone to order a pizza or
take-away meal. To him, these carbohydrate-rich roots were the scourge
of the supper table. Tapered or bulbous, creamy or white, they caused
him unwarranted fright.
At the age of 38 he unwittingly took
his first bite of a parsnip and turnip. Much to his surprise, he
discovered that the sweet and nutty parsnip and mildly tangy turnip not
only enhanced my tried and true potato casserole but also made it a
Although it took my husband almost
four decades to appreciate these frost-hardy plants, much of the
Western world has consumed them since ancient times. One of the
earliest cultivated vegetables, the white, top-shaped turnip has been
grown in northern Europe since 2000 B.C. The pale, carrot-like parsnip,
which grows wild throughout Europe and western Asia, was first farmed
during Roman times. Both prosper in cooler climates and sandy or
impoverished soils, making them an ideal peasant food.
in particular served a vital role in medieval European cuisine. At a
time when sugar was a rare luxury, these honeyed veggies acted as the
sweetener in pies, pastries and even fermented drinks. In Northern
Ireland they formed the basis for beer, while the rest of Great Britain
used them in wine. High in starch as well as potassium, this relative
of the carrot also provided nourishing, filling meals.
the arrival of sugar and potatoes, parsnips gradually fell out of
favor. Today, though, they remain an essential part of English
Christmas dinners and also of the traditional Sunday roast.
to grow and equally easy to prepare, they can be baked, stewed, steamed
or pureed alone or with other root vegetables. Often they are boiled,
then mashed with butter, just like their usurper, the potato. I prefer
to cut them into chunks and bake them with fresh rosemary, a sprinkle
of salt and olive oil, or turn them into a creamy, rich soup.
feeling indulgent, I will boil a handful of parsnips until just tender,
slice and then fry them in hot oil. After draining them on some paper
towels, I sprinkle some sea salt over them and munch away.
a lower-fat alternative, I sometimes skip frying and instead toss the
slices with olive oil and salt, spread them across a cookie sheet and
bake them in a 375 degree F oven until slightly caramelized, about 10
to 15 minutes. Without question, parsnip chips are my ultimate
While I am inclined to cook parsnips and
turnips independently, Peg Botto, chef-owner of Cosmic Catering in
Philadelphia pairs the two in her seasonal offerings.
intertwine them with my cooking and always add them to vegetable soups
and stews, as they bring body to the dishes," she says.
advocate of local, fresh ingredients, Chef Botto likes to keep her
preparations simple, adding a tad of olive oil and fresh herbs to her
'nips. She notes, however, that many cooks will opt for mixtures of
brown sugar, molasses, honey and cinnamon to spice up these two
No matter the method of serving, parsnips do benefit from some form of cooking. Eaten raw, they seem too fibrous to me.
however, work well both cooked and uncooked. Sharp and refreshing, raw
turnips call to mind cabbages and radishes, which, like the turnip, are
members of the cruciferous family. Cooked, they take on a sugary
Unlike parsnips, turnips can be eaten in their
entirety. Fresh, brightly colored turnip tops, or greens, can be
boiled, sauteed, stir-fried or stewed with meats such as pork. The
white roots with their purplish crowns can also be stir-fried, as well
as boiled, then mashed, pureed or grated raw into salads.
with parsnips, turnips reigned supreme until the appearance of the
potato. The spud's introduction to Europe and North America likewise
brought an end to the turnip's widespread use. However, Japanese cooks
still pickle turnips, while the Chinese roast or sun-dry them in strips
and then preserve them in soy sauce. The French braise, fry or glaze
the roots, while Italians saute the greens with olive oil and garlic.
with a crop of turnips, I follow the Chinese method of cooking and
roast them alongside some onions, potatoes and garlic in a 400 degree F
oven. Sliced paper thin, sprinkled with Gruyere or Parmesan cheese, and
baked at 450 degrees F, they make a delicious gratin. Roasting in high
heat causes the turnip's starch to convert into sugar, resulting in
sweet yet savory meals.
Since turnips partner well with such
foods as chicken, onions, potatoes, thyme and cream, I give them the
starring vegetable role in my chicken stews and potpies. With such
classic flavor affinities in their favor, I periodically feature them
in a delectable turnip and potato soup.
turnips, I look for small to medium-sized roots with a firm, smooth
texture. I skip the ones with shriveled skin or those any larger than
three inches in diameter. Bigger turnips tend to be sinewy.
same holds true for parsnips. I choose small to medium-sized ones with
smooth, creamy skin and firm, straight flesh. I avoid the long, large
and gangly roots, as they will be woody in texture and taste.
and flavorful, these two offer an interesting alternative to the
mainstay starches at our dinner table. Pick up a few turnips and
parsnips at your local farm stand or supermarket and find out how
rousing these root vegetables can be.
PARSNIP AND FENNEL SOUP
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound of parsnips, peeled and diced
1 pound of fennel bulb, diced (save tops for garnish if you want);
adjust accordingly, as not everyone enjoys the taste of fennel
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Generous handful of hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
a Dutch oven, cook the parsnips, fennel and onion in butter over
moderately low heat, stirring periodically for about 15 minutes, or
Add the flour, stirring 3 or so minutes
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes
Add the cream, salt and pepper. Stir until heated through. Top with chopped fennel tops and hazelnuts and serve.
Serves 4 as a side
you cannot find Halloumi, a salty, Cypriot goat's milk or sheep's milk
cheese, you can substitute Gruyere or even feta. Just add a little salt
to the dish before baking.
2 turnips, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 large red onion, cut in half, then quartered
1 large yellow onion, cut in half, then quartered
1 yam, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Idaho potato, washed, peeled and cut into chunks
3 red bliss potatoes, washed and quartered
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/3 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 ounces Halloumi cheese, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
the interior of a baking dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Tumble the
vegetables into the dish then drizzle the remaining olive oil over the
vegetables and toss to coat. Sprinkle with black pepper, then place in
the oven and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until the vegetables
have browned slightly.
Remove the baking dish from the oven.
Place the cheese on top of the vegetables and return to the oven. Turn
the broiler on medium and broil until the cheese has melted and
browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
2 pounds turnips, trimmed, peeled and cut into chunks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
Using a steamer, cover and steam the turnips until just softened, about 5 to 8 minutes.
the butter in a large sauce or saute pan. Add the steamed turnips and
maple syrup. Reduce the heat to medium-low and, stirring, coat the
turnips with the syrup until a nice glaze has formed on them, about 5
minutes. Serve immediately.
© 2008, Kathy Hunt. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.