Resembling creamy-colored carrots in appearance, parsnips have more in common with potatoes because they work well roasted, boiled or steamed, and both vegetables have about the same amount of starch. Parsnips differ from potatoes in having close to five times the amount of sugars, with one-half cup of raw parsnips containing 3 grams of sugar and the same amount of potatoes containing .6 grams. The best parsnip recipes balance the vegetable's sweetness with small amounts of bitter, sour or salty flavors.
Choosing and Preparing Parsnips
Parsnips peak in flavor after the first frost of the year in the fall, when their starches turn to sugar, but you'll find them available year-round in stores. Large or small parsnips are equally tender. Look for fresh roots that are firm, not limp, and that have cream-beige skins free from brown marks or sprouting at the tops, which indicates older roots. Scrub parsnip's thin skins and trim off the top and bottom of the roots before steaming.
How to Steam
If your parsnip roots are large, cut them into similarly-sized pieces before placing them in a steamer basket or rack over boiling water. Cover the pot tightly, and let the roots cook for about 8 to 10 minutes or until you can slip the tip of a knife all the way through the flesh. Let the roots cool slightly if you want to pull the skins off, or just leave thin skins on.
Putting Parsnips to Good Use
You have options for using steamed parsnips either on their own, or combined with other vegetables such fennel, potatoes, turnips or carrots. Traditional uses for parsnips include mashed or pureed recipes, with the parsnips used as a side dish or as a base for soups. You can also cut steamed parsnips and rewarm them in a pan with butter and seasonings or add them to meat or vegetable stews during the last few minutes of cooking.
Toning Down the Sweetness
Herbs, spices and other ingredients help balance parsnip's sweet taste. Sprinkle chopped parsley or chives over parsnips mashed with browned butter, milk or cream and a small squeeze of lemon juice. Or stir in a small amount of garlic when reheating steamed parsnips for a sauteed dish and toss in a handful of crunchy bacon just before serving. For soups or stews with steamed parsnips, add greens such as kale, spinach or collards and finish with a splash of balsamic or white wine vinegar.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: Basic Report: 11352, Potato, Flesh and Skin, Raw
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service: Basic Report: 11298, Parsnips, raw
- Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini; Elizabeth Schneider
- The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images