Now, don’t make that face. If you just puckered up, chances are you haven’t encountered parsnips since your mother indulged in the time-honoured practice of boiling them to death, followed by mashing down to pulp and serving onto the plate with a wet slapping noise that made your heart sink. If you’ve not tried proper, grown-up roasted parsnips, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Not many people know that prior to the arrival of the upstart spud in the sixteenth century, parsnips were an important staple food throughout europe and had been since the time of the Romans. And small wonder: they’re extremely hardy, reliably heavy croppers, and easy to store for months at a time. Parsnips were the best way to sweeten food for the majority of the population, for whom honey was out of the question. It wasn’t until spuds and sugar made their mark that the parsnip declined, but I think it’s rather a shame that they’ve become linked, in people’s minds, with stodgy wartime cooking. The good news is that we’re just coming into the season for parsnips now, so here’s the simplest recipe I know for roasting them.
This really couldn’t be easier. Scrub and peel some parsnips, removing any woody bits of the core, and cut into potato-sized pieces. You could also cut them like chips if you like your roasted vegetables crispy, but do be careful they don’t burn. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF, gas mark 6), and toss the parsnips in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of oil and a scattering of freshly-ground coriander seeds, black pepper and sea salt. Lay out on a lightly-greased baking tray and roast for half an hour or so. Turn them halfway through, and if you like things spicy then sprinkle them with a little cayenne pepper. Serve with some good gravy, and winter will never be the same again.
For a really decadent twist on roasted parsnips that can be found in gastropubs up and down the country, try honey-roasting them. Prepare the chunks as above but make the oven a little cooler – say 180ºC (350ºF, gas mark 4). Boil the parsnips in lightly salted water for about 4 minutes, and while they’re cooking heat 50g (2oz) each of butter and olive oil with a tablespoon of honey, some salt and pepper, and a teaspoonful of dried thyme (or two teaspoonfuls of chopped fresh thyme) until the mixture is bubbling.
Drain the parsnips when their time is up, and spread them in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Drizzle the honey mixture over them and turn them over with a spoon to make sure that they all get a good coating. They’ll need around 20 minutes in the oven to caramelise to perfection – but beware, with the honey in there the roasted parsnips go from ‘perfect’ to ‘burnt’ in no time at all. When they’re done, they’re done!