Nothing against corn beef and cabbage, but the parsnip is more Irish to me. The taproot has a subtly sweet character and stubborn perseverance that says Ireland, especially this time of year when the Irish parsnip harvest is in full swing. It's also worth remembering that long before the potato was introduced to the Emerald Isle, it was the parsnip that provided much of the winter calories consumed there.
Ireland's climate is mild enough that the seeds can be planted in summer, with the resulting roots left in the ground and harvested all winter and deep into the spring. The Irish countryside is also home to wild parsnips, which were traditionally used in conjunction with hops to make beer, while Ireland's English neighbors to the south prefer parsnip wine.
Domesticated parsnips arrived in that corner of Europe thanks to the Romans, who discovered that they grow better in northern climates. Emperor Tiberius was so fond of the aromatic taproots that he had them cultivated on his behalf in France and Germany. But it seems that the UK is where they have found a more secure place in the cultural and culinary fabric. For a time, parsnips were commonly used as a source of sugar. In contemporary England, the parsnip is used to describe the shape of the ideal man, with wide shoulders and a narrow torso.
In honor of the long, pale tuber that's currently in season, and the approaching St. Patrick's Day holiday, here are two parsnip-based recipes to help you celebrate.
- photo courtesy of Jason Mrachina
Beef and Parsnip Stout Stew
You can't get more Irish than a stout beer like Guinness. Other Irish stouts, like Murphy's, work as well. This is a slow cooker recipe, and the longer and slower it cooks, the better. It's best made the day before. The sweet stout is absorbed by the other contents, and the result is a dark, rich broth, faintly parsnippy. Adapted from Allrecipes.com.
2 pounds beef, or more if the cuts have bones attached, which is preferable. I last made it with a mix of beef stew meat chunks and beef neck. Ribs would work, as would shank. Whatever you use, it should be in manageable chunks.
3 medium carrots, cubed
3 medium parsnips, cubed
1 turnip, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 pint Irish stout
2 tablespoons tomato paste or pizza sauce, or 1/2 cup canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons garlic powder
3 cups beef broth (unless you're using beef bones)
How to make it: Brown the meat under the broiler, and add it to a slow cooker, then cover meat halfway with water. Alternatively this can be baked in a Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid.
Add a tablespoon of butter to the meat browning pan, and then add the celery and onion. Brown them on the stove or in the broiler, and add to the stew. Deglaze the pan with beer and add it to the stew. Add the parsnip, carrot and turnip, thyme, garlic powder, tomato, broth and the rest of the butter. Salt to taste as it cooks. Cook 4-8 hours on low until beef is completely tender.
Parsnip Apple Soup
This lovely dish merges the sweet, rosy aroma of apples with the earthy sweet fragrance of the parsnips, and adds many more layers of complexity with a mix of spices. It all merges smoothly into a delightful harmony. It comes by way of YourIrish.com.
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
2-3 parsnips (1 pound), thin-sliced
2-3 apples (1 pound), peeled, cored, sliced
1 clove garlic, pressed or crushed
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 pints chicken or veggie stock
optional: cream, and chives for garnish
How to make it: Melt the butter in a pan. Sauté the onion until it begins to get soft. Add the parsnip, apple and garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the spices and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
Add the stock and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the parsnips are tender. Puree in a blender and stir in the cream. Heat gently without allowing the soup to boil.