White Carrots

parsnips

All too often, when a plate of roasted, creamy-white root vegetable is offered to our Greek and Italian friends at our dining table, it is met with perplexed looks. Since it would go against all of their instincts to rudely blurt out the question – “what is that?” – we’ve become adept at translating the puzzled looks.

“It’s parsnip,” we explain and describe the vegetable.

They process this information for a moment or two. Then their eyes light up with that eureka moment and they reply, “Ah, yes, white carrots”, obviously relating it something familiar. They’re not far off with their definition as parsnips are, indeed, botanically related to carrots – but more like cousins than siblings and certainly not as versatile since they cannot be eaten raw. But, once our guests have tasted the parsnips, they are hooked.

I find it odd that parsnips feature in ancient Roman and Byzantine Greek cookbooks, yet it is virtually impossible to find mention of parsnips in later cookbooks of traditional Italian or Greek cuisine. It seems that this humble root must have got a lot of bad press in Southern Europe since those early times – enough to wipe parsnips from collective memory.

I also read somewhere that parsnips were brought from Europe to the American Colonies, but their popularity rapidly declined and were almost completely overshadowed by the potato. I have no doubt they continued since that time to be grown and consumed in the USA, but it was not a vegetable found at our family table when I was growing up.

Parsnips are a beloved vegetable here in Britain, right up there with the other root vegetables – the turnip, the swede (American = rutabaga), celeriac, beetroot, salsify, Jerusalem artichoke and, of course, the more commonplace carrot and potato.

Like many of our Greek and Italian friends, I, too, had my first experience of the rich, sweet taste of parsnip here in Britain – in the form of a creamy spiced soup served by my future in-laws. I now cook (and eat) parsnips like a native.

parsnip_soup

Curried Parsnip Soup
A retro recipe from my mother-in-law’s collection that she adapted from the cookery writer Jane Grigson – all the rage in Britain in the 1970. It’s best when made the day before.

Serves 4

  • 4 small to medium sized parsnips (approximately 1 lb)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon good quality curry powder
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 6 cups Beef stock
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Chopped chives (or parsley)

Top and tail the parsnips. Peel and cut lengthwise in quarters. Remove the tough, fibrous inner core and cut into chunks.

Chop the onion finely. Melt butter in a stock pot on medium-low heat being careful not to let the butter brown. Sauté onions until they are beginning to be transparent. Add the minced garlic and the parsnip chunks.

Add curry powder and stir until the spice coats the vegetables. Add the flour, stirring again so that the flour is absorbed by the spicy butter. Add the stock and stir until the flour mixture has dissolved.

Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 to 50 minutes until the parsnips are cooked and very soft. Purée the soup with a hand blender or in batches in a food processor.

Heat to a simmer, seasoning with salt if it is needed and freshly ground black pepper. Add the cream, stir and simmer for another 10 minutes, uncovered.

The soup is best when served the next day, allowing the flavors to meld and mellow. Refrigerate when cool. Gently reheat before serving. Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of chives or parsley. The contrasting flavor of Parmesan rolls make them the perfect complement to the curry spices of this soup.

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23 comments

  1. Yum I love this soup. I haven’t made Grigson’s recipe for some time but know it’s good! A Sunday roast was incomplete without parsnips cooked around the joint when I was a kid, I still love them!

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    • I love this soup, too. So easy and inexpensive to make. We have roast parsnips often – I sometimes slip them in with the potatoes. At Christmas they are a must on the table – often cooked by a friend who bakes them with honey & butter. Yum!

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  2. Mmmm… I think both hubby and I would love this soup. He just loves parsnips and curry. I love adding sauteed parsnips to my meatloaf, it gives it a nice fresh taste. Odd about that tidbit on parsnips in the Italian and Greek kitchen. But you’re right. No parsnips in our home when I was growing up.

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    • The soup is really good. I haven’t been able to get to the bottom of the parsnip issue with traditional Italian and Greek cuisine (and I suspect Spain, too). When (if) I do, expect another post on parsnips!

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  3. Your soup looks delicious. My grandma Mamie often cooked a pot of potatoes, parsnips and green beans with splashes of bacon drippings. I use olive oil instead of bacon oil. And add thyme and parsley, salt, pepper. So good. Folks don’t seem to use parsnips much and rare to find in a restaurant. Thanks for lovely soup recipe. Sue

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    • Oh! I think I might like your grandmother’s dish. My grandmother was also an advocate of dripping (bacon and all other sorts). Lard was her preferred shortening! I think it must be a generational thing. I, too, use olive oil – good green Greek olive oil if I can get it.

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      • In a comparison of olive oils. Americas test kitchen ( Cooks Illustrated) choose Spanish olive as the best – less butter they said. I don’t think Greek oo is much available here. Why do u like it? Sue
        Women livinglifeafter50.com

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      • I guess the Greek olive oil is a matter of loyalty. Much of our archaeological work is done in Greece and we know so many people there. There’s a vast difference region to region, farm to farm in the taste and many of our Greek friends debate which is best (usually their home town/village/farm!!)

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  4. When I saw the title then the picture, I thought, but these are parsnips. Parsnips are quite appreciated too in Iranian cuisine, especially for its medicinal benefits. Fusion of all the ingredients you have listed are very inviting.

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    • Yes, they are parsnips! I know that there actually are white carrots (and black, yellow, red, purple) in addition to the commonplace orange, but this is just what our friends call parsnips. It’s really interesting what you say about medicinal properties of parsnips. They are mentioned in any number of medieval herbals and “physics” (often lumped in with carrots) where there is often a fine line between food and medicine. I ran across an interesting web site for the (virtual) Carrot Museum, which has a lot to say about parsnips as well: http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history.html
      There’s a great photo of the Iranian “Carrot Field”.

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  5. I discovered parsnips in the uk many years ago… loved them!
    Bit it’s a shame it is so hard to find them over here in Italy. Sometimes i find them and i buy a good quantity and i save them in freezer! I also baked sweets with them!
    Great soup… i’d love it tonight…it’s perfect with the cold weather we have in these days!:)

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    • Parsnips in sweets? It reminds me of some Medieval recipes I’ve run across that use the root in desserts. I think it was considered a source of sweetening before the advent of sugar or sugar beet. Sounds interesting…my try one of those recipes! Willing to share one of yours?

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    • I agree, parsnips are delicious and a very underrated vegetable! The quizzical looks are amusing and I include myself in there as I’m sure I had the same expression on my face when first introduced to parsnips. Thanks for looking in on the blog!

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