Monday, October 13, 2008

Parsnips I have known

Some call it 'harvest', others call it 'day of reckoning', and when it came to my first attempt at growing parsnips, today worked out 50:50 on the harvest/day of reckoning gradient. With all 'above-ground' vegie crops you can check on progress, maybe even fix a problem if you find out about it early enough, so there isn't a lot of mystery when harvest time rolls around. But with 'below-ground' root vegies like parsnips, potatoes and carrots you don't know what you'll get until you yank the plant out of the ground. So today, with parsnips, I enjoyed three good results: some lovely looking successes, some amusing little duds, and a good lesson for the next time round.

This parsnip patch looked too leafy, handsome and happy to inspire confidence. All along I was thinking "all leaf, no parsnip – too much nitrogen". I didn't fertilise the soil prior to planting, and before the parsnips went in it was a sprawling patch of lamb's ears (Stachys), which I also never fertilised, so I couldn't figure out where all the nitrogen might be coming from.

Traaa daaa! Nervous Nellie need not worry. Some lovely parsnips came out of the ground.

And so did some not so lovely parsnips. The problem? Over-crowding. I didn't thin out the plants enough. All these stumpy guys were crowded together neighbours. All the longer, nicer ones didn't have anyone nearby. So that's my big lesson: don't crowd your parsnips, Bozo.

I did a sample harvest of just one parsnip last week, and cooked it that evening by my favourite method – roasting. It was beautifully tender and sweet, one of the nicest little parsnips I've ever eaten.

I've given some of my parsnips to a mate, Brent, who is a parsnip roaster from way back. His big tip – balsamic vinegar – and it is definitely a nice addition. Anyway, this is my share of the harvest, and that will make a couple of meals' worth of parsnips on the side. Aussies love their roast lamb, and roasted parsnips are the classic accompaniment to roast lamb (along with roasted potatoes, of course). So that's how I'll cook the first batch.

All in all a happy little harvest! Even the supposed 'failures' will still taste nice and sweet, and I've learned my lesson about over-crowding root vegies.
And finally, a couple of parsnip recipes to share.

Root vegie roast
While parsnips are yummy roasted with lamb, they're at their best when also roasted with other root vegies. Try roasting parsnip pieces with peeled and chopped potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, eschallots, garlic and thyme, along with anything else you have (eg, turnips, swedes). I put all the vegies into one big bowl, grind over some sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle over extra-virgin olive oil and toss all the vegies in this mix. (And you could add some balsamic vinegar at this stage, too – it is worth trying.) Roast them at 200°C for about 45 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, or even turning them over with a broad spatula, to stop them sticking. For this cooking time to work, the trick is to cut the vegies into chunks which will all cook at roughly the same rate. Usually this translates into "don't make the potato chunks too big".

Parsnip chips
After peeling parsnips cut them into thin slices (2mm thick). I use a vegie peeler to do this. Then heat a 1cm deep puddle of olive oil in a small frypan until hot. Then throw in one single 'test' piece of parsnip, to make sure the oil is at the right temperature and the oil bubbles around the parsnip slice as soon as you drop one in. Once you're happy that the oil is hot enough, cook the chips in small batches, quickly, for about 2 minutes or until they start to brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels. When they're done sprinkle with salt and serve either as an entree snack, or as a side dish.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reassurance, my parsnips look very leafy but my partners are even worse mine are in garden soil his are in compost. How can i make my soil less nitrogen heavy for next year ?

Jamie said...

Hi there Anonymous
One way to make your soil less nitrogen-heavy is to grow something which likes nitrogen in between now and the next parsnip crop. This is the basic idea of crop rotation. Any of the leafy vegie crops (Asian greens, lettuce, cabbage etc) will soak up nitrogen, making your soil ready for sowing parsnip seeds next year.

Good luck!