Pale yellow and slightly bumpy, the parsnip resembles a large, gnarled version of its cousin the carrot. It has the reputation in some quarters as being the lesser relation in the family, but parsnips have an enthusiastic group of advocates.
Compared to carrots, parsnips are less sweet and more nutty. They respond well to the same culinary treatments (except being eaten raw). As a side dish, parsnips take well to roasting, reaching their peak when just fork-tender -- the dry heat caramelizes the sugar, intensifying the sweetness and setting off flavor reactions that bode well for the taste buds. They also hold their own in baked casseroles and slow-cooked stews.
Parsnips can also substitute for carrots in baking. What says autumn better than apple parsnip spice cake?
Parsnips might be hard to find in supermarkets. Farmers markets are your best bet. When you do find them, choose evenly colored and unblemished individuals about 4 to 8 inches (the monsters are apt to be woody). They'll keep two or three weeks in the fridge in a mesh bag or other breathable containers. They'll stay fresher longest if you trim any rootlets on the bottom.
Next, we'll look at some uncommon varieties of one of the most popular foods on the planet.