I've been seeing a lot more recipes for parsnips over the past couple of years. But if I don't have a recipe, can I just use them like I would a carrot?
— Karol C., Medford
Parsnips indeed are enjoying something of a comeback, one that's centuries in the making since European palates gravitated to potatoes over the previously prominent parsnip.
Parsnips do resemble carrots, just minus the bright-orange color. But parsnips compensate with flavor: slightly more complex and sweetly herbal than carrots. That means parsnips wouldn't be a natural fit in muffins or quick breads using carrots.
Because parsnips aren't as crisp as carrots, eating them raw in salads or slaws may not be the textural treat you're expecting. And once peeled, parsnips turn dark from exposure to air. Tossing them in a bit of lemon juice can prevent browning.
Cooking times for parsnips are shorter than for carrots. So add them closer to the end of a soup or stew to keep them from disintegrating.
But pureed parsnip soups are silky without any cream. Roasted parsnips caramelize on the outside but turn creamy on the inside. Their starchier nature makes parsnips better suited than carrots to frying and mashing.
Carrots and parsnips do taste great together, and nearly any recipe calling for either will be delicious with a combination of the two. This is the time of year to enjoy both vegetables, after winter's cold has converted their starches to sugars.
Choose small to medium, creamy-white parsnips that are smooth, firm and blemish-free. Soft spots, limpness and a shriveled end are signs that a parsnip is old and probably woody and dry.