Saratoga Farmers’ Market has lots of traditional vegetables: familiar crowd-pleasers like lettuce and potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. Look closely, however, and you’ll find the market is also an excellent resource for delicious varieties of less well-known produce, including rutabaga, many varieties of turnips, kohlrabi, and the subject of this week’s article: parsnips.
Do you cook with parsnips? Perhaps you’ve seen them in the store, usually in bags near the carrots, and passed them over while reaching for their more vividly colored cousin. Parsnips are related to carrots, celery, chervil, fennel and parsley. We eat the parsnip’s cream-colored root that grows in the ground.
Parsnips have a sweet taste, and actually grow sweeter when the fall crop is left to winter over in the ground. Pleasant Valley Farm, a large produce vendor at the market, just dug its crop of parsnips in the past few weeks.
“This time of the year is a transitional season, as we continue to enjoy the winter crops, dig some crops that benefit from being wintered over in the ground like parsnips and leeks, and also welcome the rapid growth of new greens for spring,” comments Paul Arnold, of Pleasant Valley Farm, which he farms in Argyle with his wife, Sandy, and their grown children, Kim and Robert.
Pleasant Valley Farm dug over 600 pounds of parsnips in early April and the parsnips will be sold during the spring farmers’ markets. “They are stored in our root cellar and usually last us until about the end of May.”
“Parsnips are unbelievably sweet at this time of year, and are a favorite in our family,” notes Sandy Arnold. “We like to serve them baked or roasted with butter, but they are very flexible and can be added to many roasts, soups, and stews. To use them in a recipe, we just scrub them with a vegetable brush and cut into pieces. No need to peel!”
Parsnips are also delicious when pureed and served underneath a main entrée, or when cubed and combined with carrots and turnips, tossed in olive oil, and roasted on a baking sheet.
Unlike carrots, which many people enjoy crunching on when they are raw, parsnips have a more fibrous texture, so most chefs prefer to cook them before serving.
With their sweet flavor and soft texture when cooked, parsnips are a pleasing vegetable to add to soups, such as split pea soup, and curry dishes. This week at the market, pick up some parsnips and experiment a little in your kitchen.
Spring Split Pea Soup with Parsnips
2 large parsnips*, diced to ½” cubes
1 large carrot*, diced to ½” cubes
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion*, chopped
1 lb dried green split peas
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: ham bone* or 1 tsp liquid smoke (only if vegetable stock or water used)
Place all ingredients in large soup pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for one hour or until all vegetables and split peas are tender. Remove bay left.
To give your soup a smooth foundation, either use an immersion blender to puree a small portion of the soup, or transfer a few cups into a blender or food processor, and then return smooth puree to soup pot.
Be sure to taste your soup before adding salt. You may not need any if you have used a ham bone or if your stock has salt already added to it.
NOTE: Liquid smoke will give a vegetarian version of this soup a hearty flavor, or you can inquire of the market’s pork vendors what they may have available for ham bones.