A relative of the carrot, this ivory-colored root closely resembles its brighter, more familiar cousin. Parsnips have a slightly sweet flavor and a tough, starchy texture that softens with cooking. Excellent roasted, steamed, boiled or baked, parsnips can be prepared in almost any way that potatoes or carrots are. Because they become mushy more quickly than other root vegetables, add them toward the end of cooking to stews and soups. Very young, tender parsnips may be grated or thinly sliced and added raw to salads.
Although now available year-round, parsnips are at their peak after the first frost, when the cool weather converts their starches to sugar. Look for small to medium parsnips that are firm and unblemished. Larger ones can be tough and stringy and have a woody core that must be removed.
Wrapped in a perforated plastic bag, parsnips will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Scratch parsnips with your fingernail to check for a waxy coating. If the vegetables are waxed, be sure to peel them. Otherwise, they may be scrubbed with a vegetable brush or peeled, as you wish. Cut out and discard the tough, fibrous core found in large parsnips. Because they discolor when exposed to air, cook cut parsnips immediately or sprinkle them with lemon juice.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)