Parsnips have a warming, autumnal charm and are great for more than roasting at Christmas, as Catherine Morgan finds out.

This article was originally published in print in the Autumn 2022 issue of Optimum Nutrition.

Parsnips planted in spring are now ready to roast, bake, mash or sauté. Despite their pale appearance, they’re packed with nutrients and flavour, and give a sweet warmth to a variety of dishes.

Although they’re often overshadowed by their more colourful cousin — the humble carrot — parsnips are equally versatile and easy to prepare and cook.

Whilst the distinctive taste of parsnips might not be to everyone’s liking, it’s worth experimenting with them — for they can offer so much more than the bland, boiled fare of seasons past.

Sweetened in the cold

Native to Eurasia, this root vegetable is a member of the parsley (Apiaceae) family.

The plants are hardy and a great staple during the colder autumn and winter months; and they even taste better after a little frost, when their starch is converted into sugar.

Just be careful if you're harvesting your own vegetables; the leaves contain a sap that can cause skin irritation when combined with sunlight.

Swap your potato for parsnip mash or chips

For a comforting alternative to mashed potato, boil and mash parsnips with carrot and butter — and add some mascarpone for a creamier bite.

Roasting parsnips intensifies their sweetness; and the sugar becomes lightly caramelised and sticky.

Prepare crunchy chips by chopping peeled parsnips into sticks, tossing with olive oil, salt and pepper, and baking at 200C for about 30-35 minutes.

Cube or crisp with other root veg

Dice into small cubes and roast with carrots and celeriac for a rustic side dish. For those with a sweet tooth, sauté cubed parsnip with honey, salt and tarragon, or coat in a parmesan crumb before roasting or frying for a more savoury experience.

For a simple snack with extra kid-appeal, peel long strips into a bowl, coat with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and roast for around 20 minutes for homemade crisps. Combine with other root vegetables such as beetroot and carrot for a more colourful finish.

Equally good in a soup or salad

Parsnips can also be dished up in soups, stews and curries; but beware of using too much because the flavour can sometimes be overpowering and could end up dominating the dish.

And although this root vegetable won’t be on everyone’s salad ingredient radar, it can be eaten raw; just peel and grate to add an earthy flavour and crunch to autumn and winter salads.

What to do with parsnip core

Coring is optional — and largely down to personal preference and the toughness of the core. Whilst some parsnips have a tender, more edible core, others are fibrous, woody and a bit chewy.

If in doubt, cut the parsnip into quarters lengthways and remove the core if looks and feels dense.

Health benefits of parsnip

Nutritionally, parsnips are a source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, folate and magnesium, as well as dietary fibre and phytonutrients (plant chemicals).

Like other root vegetables, parsnips have a relatively lengthy shelf life, if stored correctly, but they will oxidise once exposed to air if they’ve been peeled and chopped.

To prevent this, place prepared parsnips in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice if you don’t intend to use them immediately.

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