Why is it that people go crazy for carrots but ignore parsnips? They're among the sweetest of the root vegetables, particularly after they've gone through the first frost. With the first deep chill, enzymes in the root begin converting stored starches into the sugar the plant will need come spring. It's the vegetable equivalent of transferring money from savings into checking.
Like other root vegetables, parsnips are covered with a corky skin that serves to protect them from any soil-borne foes, and they have a hard core that is actually the plumbing that transfers water from the soil up to the plants' leaves. Useful as those might be in the ground, they do nothing but get in the way on the plate, so careful cooks will remove them before cooking.
How to choose: Select parsnips that are firm, with no soft spots or discoloration. If there are tops attached, make sure they're fresh and green. Avoid parsnips that have lots of hairy secondary roots.
How to store: Refrigerate parsnips in a tightly sealed plastic bag.
How to prepare: Parsnips are terrific steamed or roasted and pureed with butter. But they're just as good glazed -- quarter peeled parsnips lengthwise and cut out the woody core; cook them over medium heat in a large covered skillet with just enough water to slick the bottom of the pan and as much butter as you want; when the parsnips are tender, turn up the heat to high, remove the lid and cook until the liquid has cooked off and the parsnips are beginning to brown. Nutmeg is nice.
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