You should see all the disbelieving, confused and bewildered looks I get when I say that parsnips are my favorite early spring vegetable.
Most people associate parsnips with fall, along with most other root vegetables. You can dig parsnips in the fall; if you like hard, starchy, and slightly bitter roots. Parsnips dug in the fall generally end up in stews or soups, often just as a filler vegetable, not because they adds any sparkling flavor. Quite honestly, I have never figured out why people bother with fall parsnips.
My grandfather was a parsnip lover, too. Every spring, he planted parsnips in an out-of-the-way spot so they could grow undisturbed and rest in the ground over the winter. As soon as the snow melted in the spring and the ground thawed enough to dig, he would go out to his parsnip patch and dig a bucketful. Back at the house, Grandma peeled enough for a feast, then she sliced and fried and filled plates so we could gorge ourselves on this amazing root that had turned sweet and mellow over the winter.
I have to confess that fried parsnips are still my favorite, although I love them other ways, too. Roasted parsnips are my second favorite. Thick chunks of parsnip, carrot, onion and garlic are tossed with olive oil and roasted at 350 degrees until they are tender. The length of time this takes varies with how thickly you cut the veggies and how many you’ve squeezed on the pan. To speed the process, cover the pan for the first 15 to 20 min. This holds the moisture in and partially steams the vegetables. Then uncover to finish roasting. Turn the veggies over several times throughout roasting so they brown on more than one side. Sprinkle with a little salt, drizzle with balsamic vinegar if you like, or if you have a sweet tooth like my grandpa, drizzle on a little honey or maple syrup. I just use salt, but do whatever suits your palate. No rules here!
Parsnip and carrot soup is also fantastic. Use your favorite carrot soup recipe and substitute parsnips for half the carrots. I like to simmer the parsnips and carrots in my homemade vegetable broth until tender. Then I puree the whole works and add salt, pepper and lots of ginger. Very invigorating on a cold, damp spring day.
Parsnips au gratin are awesome. There are many ways to prepare this, so I leave it to you to find the recipe that is most appealing to your taste buds. I use lots of cream, sauteed onions, thyme and cheese. A bit calorie-laden, but a wonderful indulgence with friends and a glass or two of wine.
Once you get started with spring harvested parsnips, you will become enamored and start thinking, “I could use parsnips with the last of my winter squash,” or “wouldn’t they be amazing with broiled fish?” I indulge two of my spring cravings at once by sauteing the parsnips in butter, and then adding nettles and serving it over wild rice.
If you would like to grow your own spring treat, you need to start early in the season, as soon in the spring as the ground can be worked. Make a shallow trench, about an inch deep. Thinly sow the seed in the trench, parsnips will get large if you have rich soil, so make sure they have plenty of room. Keep the soil moist until you see the leaves poking through the ground. Mulch heavily with leaves or grass clippings to keep the soil moist and reduce weeds. In the fall, make sure your row is marked so you can find it when the snow melts. You don’t need to cover the row or protect it in any way, unless marauding deer are a problem. They will dig down and take a big chomp off the top of the parsnips. Laying something (other than mulch) over the top of the parsnips usually ends this problem.
In the spring, go out to your patch, dig and eat! If you have planted more than you can consume in a couple of weeks, dig, wash, and store the rest in your refrigerator in a plastic bag or covered container. They will hold for 4 to 8 weeks.