Get to the Root
The carrot and parsnip, both root vegetables, are known for big flavor, vitamins and their ability to stretch the family’s food budget.
carrot – Historians trace the carrot to a small purple ancestor from Afghanistan. The now familiar orange hue is believed to have been cultivated by the Dutch in the 1700s to honor the ruling House of Orange. Others claim the color was heightened with the emergence of coloration in the 19th century. Today, the deepest orange carrots contain the most beta-carotene.
Year-round availability and great versatility have made the carrot one of the most popular vegetables. Having a crisp crunch, they are delicious raw or can be cooked in a variety of ways. They can be used as appetizers or added to soups, stews, drinks and desserts. Cut carrots into “coins,” drizzle with olive oil and roast in an oven set at 350°F for about 35 minutes, tossing once. When done, sprinkle with salt and a little balsamic vinegar. The dry heat will caramelize sugars in the carrots for a unique taste. Or, simmer “coins” in water with butter, sugar and salt until tender. Remove carrots and reduce the liquid into a thickened glaze, serving together. This makes for a fabulous side dish. Carrots need to be purchased when firm. If the greenery is attached, remove immediately because it robs the vegetable of vitamins and moisture. Carrots should be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator’s vegetable bin. Avoid storing near apples as the carrots tend to turn bitter.
parsnip – For thousands of years in Europe, parsnips were the staple winter vegetable, only losing status when the potato was introduced. In the New World, the parsnip found its place in everything – wines, breads, puddings and, of course, soups and stews. It fell out of popularity for a time, but is being rediscovered by chefs for its sweet, earthy, nutty flavor.
Although they are not usually eaten raw, parsnips can be used in most applications where carrots are enjoyed. Parsnips can be baked, boiled, sautéed, steamed or roasted. Most home cooks tend to mash the parsnip, sometimes combined with potatoes or carrots. They make a wonderful creamed soup, topped with croutons and chives – adding a green apple provides a deliciously tart variation. In order to bring out the silky texture and nutty flavor, it is best to roast with butter or olive oil or use cream when baking or pureeing. Parsnips pair particularly well with lamb and beef. Also, try enhancing their flavor with ginger, orange and curry. Store parsnips in a loosely sealed plastic bag and keep refrigerated for one to two weeks. Wait until just before cooking to peel as they will discolor slightly when exposed to air.